November 07, 2019
It took two months and a job for Leonard Minns to return to Marsh Harbour after fleeing Abaco before Hurricane Dorian hit destroying his family’s home and much of the island. “Driving in from the airport I couldn’t believe my eyes. Abaco, my home, was gone. It made me cry a little,” said the 30-year-old construction worker.
Although the Category 5 storm washed away much of everything he had, Mr Minns said it didn’t take with it his hope.
Like the battered Bahamian flag flying in the breeze at the Leonard M. Thompson International Airport, Abaco is in tatters but still standing.
The return of displaced resident has been slow to say the least. Mr Minns was one of thousands of hurricane evacuees whose post-Dorian life was playing out in New Providence until he landed a job as a dump truck operator with CPS, a subsidiary of Bahamas Striping Group of Companies (BSGC) specializing in heavy duty cleanup, maintenance and pavement preservation.
He and the CPS crew – mostly Abaco natives – face a mammoth task, cleaning up The Mud, an area which once had the dubious distinction of being one of the largest shanty town in The Bahamas.
“It was hard finding employment in New Providence. I sent my resumeĚ to a few places. They said they would call. No one did. I just kept looking until my cousin sent me the ad for this job. It feels good to get back to work,” said the Murphy Town resident who returned to the island Thursday, October 31.
“Working with CPS this past week has made me feel as if I’m part of the solution. It makes me feel proud, like we’re achieving something.”
Mr Minns is a member of a 42-strong team responsible for moving mountains, that is, the mounds of debris Dorian left behind in The Mud.
“Everyone is anxious to start the rebuilding process. For that to begin, the cleanup phase must be completed as well. That’s where our company comes in,” said Atario Mitchell, BSGC’s president.
“The burden is on me and my CPS team to get the cleanup done in a timely manner so Abaco can begin the rebuilding process. As an Abaco native it fills me with a great sense of pride to be able to employ my fellow Abaconians.”
The Mud cleanup is unlike any project the nine-year-old company has ever undertaken.
From tissue paper to tow trucks and eggs to excavators, everything had to be flown or shipped to Abaco. Moreover, CPS had to establish a man camp, of sorts, to house its workers. The company rents Reverend Silbert Mills’ Friendship Tabernacle Church in Central Pines.
The church was outfitted with a new generator, additional air conditioning units, 42 airbeds, washers and dryers and outside showers with hot and cold running water.
CPS also purchased three laptops, two pool tables and a 40-inch flat screen TV for the men to utilize. The company provides three hot meals a day, served up by Mr Mitchell’s own mother, Yvette, and her cooking team of three.
“We tried to make it as comfortable as possible for the staff,” said Mr Mitchell. “We wanted them to have a place where they could relax and ease their minds a bit after a hard day at work.”
The men work six days a week, 10 hours per day from 7am to 5pm.
“It’s a slow process but every day I see progress. I think it’s going to be worth it,” said Zaviago Russell, a Crown Haven resident who previously managed and co-owned a 45-fleet car rental company. Now, he oversees logistics for CPS.
“This is my way of giving back to home. I wanted to be hands-on with the cleanup. I tried relocating. It didn’t feel right. I felt like I had to come back. Working at ground zero is a humbling experience and I am proud of the work that me and the guys are out here doing.”
Worker after worker said their goal is to return Abaco to some semblance of normalcy as soon as possible.
Just as he is helping to restore Abaco, Victor Paul said he’s also rebuilding his life in shoring up his depleted financial resources.
“Whatever savings I had, I had to live off while in New Providence, the two months I wasn’t working. Thank God for my friend, Brian Williams, who took me and my family into his home in South Beach,” said Mr Paul, a dump truck operator.
After Dorian blew the roof off his Treasure Cay home, Mr Paul, his wife, their four children and his mother rode out the storm in his Durango jeep. He estimated the water rose to three and a half feet where it was parked.
While his mother, wife and two younger children continues to reside with relatives in New Providence, his two older children were sent to the United States to live with their aunt.
“I’m happy to get back to work but having to see Abaco every day in its current state, it’s sad,” he said. “Abaconians have to come back. We have to start somewhere and rebuild. This is our home.”
CPS chain saw operator Giovani Rolle hopes by next year things would have turned around for the better.
“My prayer is that it will look more like the Abaco we remember,” said the 23-year-old, who feels proud to be a part of the recovery process.
Fellow chain saw operator, DavonteĚ Russell is convinced of Abaco’s return to her glory days. “It’s not going to come right now, but I know we can bring Abaco back,” said the Dundas Town resident. “This is my hometown and I want to help rebuild it. This work makes me feel as if I have a bond with Abaco.”
Resilience and rebuilding are two common themes reiterated amongst the CPS work crew. “Abaco has a lot of strong people,” said Jerone Mitchell who returned to the island three weeks ago to work at his brother’s company.
“Many of them stayed behind just to make sure this job gets done, people not only from Marsh Harbour but all of Abaco. Everybody wants to work together. We have hope for our future here in Abaco. We’re focused on working and bringing this place back.”
Resilience and rebuilding are two common themes reiterated amongst the CPS work crew. Pictured here are Abaconians Victor Paul, Jerone Mitchell, DavonteĚ Russell, Giovani Rolle and Zaviago Russell.
CPS had to establish a man camp, of sorts, to house its workers. The company rents Reverend Silbert Mills’ Friendship Tabernacle Church in Central Pines. From tissue paper to tow trucks and eggs to excavators, everything had to be flown or shipped to Abaco.
CPS workers must move mountains. Mounds of rubble are all that’s left of The Mud shantytown. Photos courtesy of Caribbean Pavement Solutions.