For two days in early September, Hurricane Dorian channeled its category-five winds and storm surge onto the Bahamas. The hurricane flattened entire neighborhoods and claimed dozens of lives with gusts up to 185 miles per hour and a tide that rose more than 20 feet in some areas.
In all, the storm affected some 75,000 residents and most every government service on the islands, including the Rand Memorial Hospital in Freeport. But help was on the way almost as quickly as the storm spun away from the devastation it created.
One of the first flights to arrive just days after the storm carried AdventHealth physicians and RS&H architect Jeff Smith. AdventHealth, an RS&H client, reached out to Smith to help provide an assessment of the healthcare facilities on Grand Bahama Island.
“Our AdventHealth Project Manager, Ray Moe, called right after the storm to let us know they were putting a team together to go down,” Smith said. “Four of us got on a plane and went down to evaluate the hospital and debrief with their leaders and the Minister of Health.”
Moe’s call came on a Monday. Less than 24 hours later, they were on a chartered flight to Freeport. They didn’t know what conditions they were flying into, or even where they were staying, but they were going just the same.
“We always have a clinical response to disasters,” Moe said. “But we knew, given the circumstances, that there needed to be a facilities response. The response from RS&H as a partner – and from Jeff in particular – was very rapid.”
Smith didn’t know what to expect, but he packed his RS&H hardhat in his suitcase just in case.
The team arrived to find that two-thirds of the single-story hospital had succumbed to the rising waters. About two feet of storm surged flooded most of the hospital – only the radiology and emergency rooms were spared by a matter of inches. Medical efforts on the island are currently boosted by hospital ships and massive medical tents nearby.
Not only did Smith discover water damage to equipment and electrical systems, but he and the team also uncovered lots of water behind walls and beneath floors. Drywall will have to be removed, and the affected areas will have to be disinfected and dried out, Smith said.
Moe and Smith had a structural report filled with immediate needs turned into the Minister of Health within 48 hours.
“Ray and I did the engineering and architectural evaluation and put together a report on what the needs they have, as well as some practical steps they can take to get it back online as fast as possible,” Smith added.
While the hospital stood up to the intense winds and flooding, most areas around the island weren’t so fortunate. Smith saw houses collapsed on each other, roads that couldn’t be traversed and entire communities decimated.
But he and his colleagues also saw the resolve of a country and the kindness of strangers.
“Everyone we interacted with was so appreciative; they were phenomenal,” Smith said. “We didn’t have running water, but the families staying around us cooked us these amazing meals with whatever they could. It really touched me how everyone did everything they could to take care of us, and we were there to take care of them.”
The effort to help the people of the Bahamas could be seen as they arrived back at Sanford-Orlando Airport. Airline charters were donating planes as pilots donated their time. Food, water and supplies stacked up fast. The AdventHealth Foundation continues to raise money for its Bahamas Relief Fund.
The Bahamas face a long road to recovery, but the ongoing response shows that there are thousands of people who want to lift the country up.
“It was awesome to see the outpouring of help from a lot of people – I am thankful to be a part of it,” Smith said. “To get to go down there and help a little in person was very rewarding.”
Moe feels the same way. And he won’t soon forget his partner on projects who jumped in to help at a moment’s notice.
“I can’t say enough about Jeff and how he was willing to give his all,” Moe said. “What he’s done, it is tremendous.”