As mentioned at the end of another blog entry, Chelle has trouble sitting still. After the hectic holiday visits she headed off to Marsh Harbor in the Bahamas for two weeks of disaster relief volunteer work. She hooked up with the All Hands and Hearts organization there (aka AHAH, LINK) joining their volunteers already on the ground working on the reconstruction of schools, a clinic and library, and teachers’ homes.
When Hurricane Dorian parked over The Abacos and Grand Bahama for a couple of days while spinning viciously at Cat-5 strength, it pretty much flattened those islands. And afterwards, Marsh Harbor was basically a pile of waterlogged toothpicks, and those soon turned into moldy ones.
Chelle headed over there in mid-January, and upon return she was exhausted. AHAH doesn't mess around -- they're not just a gaggle of volunteers, but rather they bring experienced program managers, project managers and team leads to organize and direct the teams of volunteers, and utilize disciplined direction to get defined and palpable results. Work days start at sunrise and go nearly to sunset. Clearing debris, scrubbing mold, vacuuming, disinfecting and rebuilding is really hard and cyclically repetitive work. If you're on a "muck and gut" team (like Chelle) you don't sleep each night, you pass out.
But it's very, very rewarding. In addition to the videos above, below you'll find a sampling of the collection of photos Chelle managed to snap off while there. They will give you an idea of the destruction and despair, but also the hope, optimism and good work going on over there.
AHAH specializes in mold remediation which consists of the following process also known as “Sani”:
** Scrub - Each piece of wood is scrubbed three times with a wire brush on each side of the exposed piece of wood: 1) scrub with the grain – usually vertical, 2) scrub horizontal, 3) scrub in a circular motion. One of the pictures below depicts an AHAH volunteer scrubbing up in the rafters. One thing learned after two days of scrubbing was to pick a large room with lots of long runs of studs and rafters; cubbies and nooks are a bear to scrub. In another pic you’ll see Chelle equipped with respirator mask and scrub brushes getting ready to work an 80 year old man’s home.
** Vacuum – Each piece of wood is vacuumed in two passes (vertical then horizontal) with wet vacs using whatever attachments are needed (or available). Unfortunately AHAH needs to do a full inventory of the wet vac attachments and re-order. We were really hurting for the right attachments to fit into nooks & crannies and some of the attachments had to be duct-taped onto the vac.
** Chemical Treatment – This is done with a solution called Shockwave (ammonium chloride) which is sprayed over all the exposed wood. It requires wearing a Tyvek suit in addition to the respirator mask used for scrub & vac.
** Muck & Gut – In one of the pictures you see a child’s toys and toddler shoes on the floor of what was their home. This particular 2bed/1 bath home, the right side of a duplex, had 50% of its roof blown off. For AHAH, it was a complete muck & gut meaning removal of all drywall, door & window trim, countertops, cabinets, bathroom tub & sink. In the left side of the duplex they had roof damage but nothing torn off and we mostly needed to only muck and gut the lower half of everything in the home due to water damage. The owner of both duplexes had allowed extended family to move into the left side duplex so we were trying to work around all their belongings. However, we ultimately gutted the entire kitchen so we’re not sure they continued to stay there or not. One of the pictures shows Chelle with crow bar in hand tearing off door trim.
Part of the AHAH Base camp is the Every Child Counts School, which is the only school for special needs children in all of the Abaco Islands. The school suffered a lot of damage which AHAH is working to repair while using the school as a base of operations for now. Chelle stayed in Seydel Hall along with 31 other bunk mates. Luckily she scored a lower bunk but was surrounded by two especially heavy snorers and with earplugs that would not stay in her ears (a week in a half into her stay a fellow volunteer shared some silly-putty-like ear plugs that could be molded and stayed in place – at last some sleep). You can see from the pictures that the bunk beds have mosquito nets that the volunteers bring with them – all bedding is supplied by each volunteer and many will leave things behind; that was fortunate for Chelle since her checked bag with air mattress, sleeping bag, sheet, pillow and mosquito tent did not arrive when she did and had to be picked up the next day.
Soon AHAH will be opening a new barracks facility at the base camp, an interesting structure donated by Sprung (and locally nick named the Taj Mahal) – the video below will give you an idea what that looks like. All of the communal bunk beds will be moved there and house up to 90 people. One can only imagine the cacophony of snoring that will bounce of those walls.
At Base the day starts about 5:45 AM for most; get dressed in your bunk bed in the dark and hope you put everything on the right way. Grab your headlamp or flashlight and wander to the “mess hall” which was set up as a kitchen plus two long plywood tables for making breakfast and lunch sandwiches. Chelle lived on PB&J sandwiches for breakfast and tunafish or canned chicken sandwiches for lunch for 11 days. Thankfully, they had coffee so you quickly got your business done and everyone met up in the outdoor dining area at 6:45 AM sharp – PPE in hand (Personal Protection Equipment – hard hat, safety glasses, respirator mask, work boots & gloves), ready to grab job site supplies, load up the trucks and be rolling to the job site by 7:00 AM.
At the job site the Team Lead conducted a stretch circle each morning – each volunteer selected a favorite stretch and introduced themselves to the team for that day. Your teams changed daily so it was a great way to meet your fellow volunteers (there were 90 some volunteers the day Chelle arrived and around 60 something upon departure – constant turnover of people on base). Then, off to work whether that be Sani (scrubbing or vacuum or spray) or Muck & Gut, or roofing, or some lucky people got assigned to work at World Central Kitchen or the rebuild of St. Francis School getting it ready to reopen in the next month. You were at the job site until about 3:45 with an hour break for lunch (at the site; there was no transportation once dropped off and typically no ‘facilities’). A truck arrived around 3:45 to 4:00 PM to bring you back to base which allowed about 45 minutes to clean up and shower before the mandatory daily 5:00 PM meeting in the outdoor dining area. It was important to Chelle to get showered before that meeting since the showers were outdoor and cold-water only, and by the end of the 5:00 PM meeting it’s really dark in the showers. Those cold fronts that blew through Florida in January blew through the Abaco Islands as well, and that shower could be really cold.
The 5pm meeting was to greet & meet new arrivals, walk through the day’s work results and discuss the next day’s assignments – all documented on the work board; there were about 9 to 12 job sites in progress most of the time. After the meeting everyone lined up in the mess hall to grab a hot plate of food (same dinner rotation every week – spaghetti, chicken curry, burgers & fries, chicken souse, tuna pasta, BBQ chicken); each volunteer is on their own for dinner on Sunday, the one day off each week. After dinner, everyone just socialized a bit and got prepared for the next day. AH&H provided a clean volunteer t-shirt each day; there was one washing machine on base strictly for washing the t-shirts which were then hung to dry. Any personal clothing to be washed was your responsibility in a bucket with a stick to use as agitator. Volunteers hung their personal wash wherever they could outside the buildings. Chelle was usually in her bunk by 8:00 PM to read and wind down before the 9:00 PM lights out and quiet hours.
Sunday was our day off and 8 of us decided to drive an hour south to Sandy Point which had sustained only relatively light storm damage. A staff member was kind enough to drive us down there Saturday night and we got four rooms at Oiesha’s “Resort”, which was much more like a Motel 6 but we LOVED it: electricity, a real bed, a real bathroom with toilet and hot shower AND she let us use her washer/dryer for our clothes. (Chelle knew there was a washer & dryer and recommended to everyone to bring their stuff – we all threw it together into two loads – heaven!) Oiesha’s was across the street from a beautiful beach and we spent the day at “Nancy’s” restaurant and bar on the beach. Lots of folks from base arrived on Sunday for the day. Our group had planned to take a taxi back to base but managed to grab a ride with some of the others from base that had come for the day. Then on Monday it was back to work!
Chelle was so very ready to return to Florida the following Sunday – exhausted from the work, the Spartan living conditions, and lack of restful sleep. But, she hopes to return again; although next time will be a shorter stay as 2 weeks was a bit much. She’s currently reaching out to AH&H to determine what supplies they might need when Ghost Rider journeys back to the Bahamas in April. We are also working with Stokes Marine in Fort Myers to haul some of their collected supplies to the Hope Town area on Elbow Cay.
AHAH is committed to recovery in Marsh Harbour for two years (until Oct 2021). There was a big difference in activity levels from Chelle’s first week and her second week; people are coming back, there’s far more traffic and school buses are beginning to run. The Bahamian Government is finally (after five months) starting to take action and is targeting to have electricity working by sometime in March of this year. They also finally allowed AHAH to begin rebuilding the public schools there (to date, AHAH has been restricted to rebuilding private schools); they were just awarded the rebuild of CAPS – Central Abaco Primary School – the largest school in the Abaco Islands serving 800 students.
Of course All Hands and Hearts is not just working on disaster relief in the Bahamas….they have active teams on the ground around the globe, in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico, Australia, the Phillipines, Peru, Mozambique and Nepal. They do good things.
|Some of the Devastation in Marsh Harbour on Great Abaco Island|
|More of the Damage & Devastation|
|Interior Structures Are Embedded with Mold|
|Not Uncommon....Nobody Knows for Sure Where the Boat Originated|
|There Are Tragic Stories in Every Pile of Rubble|
|This Served as Our Barracks Building|
|These 16 Bunks Served 32 Volunteers|
|Close Up of the Bunks....the Mosquito Netting is Important|
|Outdoor Showers....and COLD Water Only|
|Gearing Up for Battle -- Sani Duty (Mold Remediation)|
|Work Board - with Team Assignments|
|The Only Special-Needs School ("Every Child Counts") in All of the Abacos...Now Being Renovated|
|Sani Work (Mold Remediation) in the Rafters|
|"Muck & Gut" -- Crowbarring Off Trim & Drywall|
|Another Worksite....Muck & Gut in Progress, New Roof Coming Next|
|But We Did Have One Day of Rest...Beach & Break Time (Sandy Point, About an Hour's Drive|
South of Marsh Harbour)
|Some Day It Will All Look Like This Again (From Our Last Visit in 2018)|