Bahamian Catholic school administrator describes current desperation

Destroyed houses in Marsh Harbour, Bahamas, are seen in an aerial photograph taken Sept. 3, 2019, after Hurricane Dorian. (CNS photo/Paul Halliwell, Royal Navy handout via Reuters)

By Tom Tracy Catholic News Service

MIAMI — An interim parish administrator and assistant principal of the St. Francis de Sales Parish and School in Marsh Harbour, Abaco Islands, Bahamas, said his school was in ruins and the island is in a desperate state following Hurricane Dorian.

Situated in central Abaco and just a few blocks from the Atlantic Ocean, St. Francis de Sales Parish and School were in a highly impacted region of Abaco Islands after Dorian dealt its punishing winds and storm surge to this part of the Bahamas Sept. 1-3.

“The whole school is totally gone and the Catholic Church was damaged, especially the roof and one side of the wall is off; it was serving as a shelter,” said Elmer Bongon, an educator on the island for the past 18 years who has also been serving as an interim parish administrator at the parish following the death of the pastor earlier this year.

Farther up the road, St. Mary and Andrew Catholic Church in Treasure Cay is “totally gone, it was under 4 feet of water,” said Bongon, who retrieved the official baptismal and other parish records from both churches before the hurricane.

He said in a phone interview Sept. 5 that he was looking for a way to take the church records, and his wife and two children, to Nassau as early as Sept. 7.

He said he planned to deliver the records to the Nassau Archbishop Patrick C. Pinder, and then find a temporary living situation for himself and his wife and children, who have been having a hard time since the storm.

Sept. 2 was to have been the first day of school at St. Francis de Sales with an estimated 340 children enrolled, but many of those families had already evacuated.

“The students are scattered: Some are missing, many are in Nassau and I am sure our sister schools will accommodate some of them in Nassau, but I don’t know yet what the plan is,” he said. “I have my two kids of my own in the school, but I don’t know where they will go.”

The newly homeless storm survivors — including residents of two shantytowns of mostly undocumented persons — are increasingly desperate and looking for sustenance, with the threat of looting and robbery a possible danger to anyone driving through the area unescorted following the hurricane, he said.

“My kids are suffering post-traumatic stress,” he said, noting that the family stayed in their apartment during the hurricane and were trapped afterward because they were surrounded by water.

“We couldn’t do anything but keep on praying for two days,” Bongon said.

Now they are packing their belongings, which are mostly wet after storm water leaked in through the ceiling during Dorian; they have no power or water and only enough food for another day or so.

“Right now, ” he said, “we just need to get out of here, and shutter everything up and leave.”

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