Two bodies found as people get back to work in Abaco


Getting to work moving the debris.

By Syann Thompson

Tribune Staff Reporter

CLEAN-UP crews working to move debris in The Mudd have revealed how they have found two bodies and at least one firearm.

Forty-two Abaconians have been able to get back to work thanks to the clean-up operation after Hurricane Dorian. Bahamas Striping, a local company in Nassau went looking for Abaconians at shelters and others staying with family members, to be part of their CPS clean-up crew in Marsh Harbour.

CPS, a subsidiary of Bahamas Striping, is responsible for the mammoth task of cleaning up at The Mudd, one of the largest shanty towns in The Bahamas. Senior vice president of business development Dominic Sturrup told The Tribune there were Abaconians who just wanted to go back home to work and be part of the rebuilding efforts.

He said: "We found that residents were eager to get back home to Abaco and get working. We put up flyers on social media, Facebook and Whatsapp and got a favourable response. We met with them and explained what the job would entail, the safety equipment we provide and also we wanted to give them a realistic view of the conditions on Abaco."

The company was able to house their workers at Friendship Tabernacle in Central Pines fitted with a generator, air conditioning unit, 42 airbeds washers, dryers and outside showers with running hot and cold water.

President of Bahamas Striping group of companies Atario Mitchell, an Abaco native, said the burden is on his CPS team to get the clean-up done in a timely manner so that Abaco can begin the rebuilding process.

He said: "Everyone is anxious to start the rebuilding process and for that to begin the clean-up phase must be completed. The burden is on me and the CPS team to get the cleanup done in a timely manner so that Abaco can begin the rebuilding process."

Halfway through its three-month contract, they have sorted and discarded tons of waste, including fridges and stoves, electronics, trees, and construction debris - as well as two bodies.

"We wanted to ensure that the work we were carrying out was not just a rushed process but one that allowed us to meticulously and carefully sort through the debris and ensure that we were not just bulldozing and carrying away what might be human remains," said Dr Allen Albury, BSGC's managing director.

"Everything discovered is handled with dignity. A protocol was established from the very beginning as to what would be the steps taken if there were any significant discoveries on the site."

Leonard Minns is one of the thousands of hurricane evacuees who was transported to Nassau after the hurricane. He was able to work as a dump truck operator with CPS. The Abaco native and Murphy Town resident said: "It was hard finding employment in New Providence. I sent my resume' to a few places. They said they would call, no one did. It feels good to get back to work. Working with CPS has made me feel as if I'm part of the solution. It makes me feel proud, like we are achieving something."

Zaviago Russell once managed and co-owned a 45-fleet car rental company, now he is overseeing logistics for the CPS cleanup crew. Russell said it is a slow process but everyday there has been progress. The Abaco native and Crown Haven resident said: "This is my way of giving back to home. I wanted to be hands on with the cleanup. I tried relocating, but 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 we are doing out here."

Dump truck operator Victor Paul, like the other Abaco workers, said he is just trying to rebuild his life and attempt to find some kind of normalcy. He said: "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 family into his home in South Beach."

"This is something you might see in a war-torn country, perhaps somewhere experiencing civil war," said CPS project manager Peter Bascom, a civil engineer.

A former deputy director for the National Recovery and Reconstruction Unit which dealt with Hurricane Matthew in New Providence and the Family Islands, Mr Bascom said not even in pictures has he witnessed devastation similar to Dorian's.

Further complicating matters, The Mud provides the worst possible working conditions for the necessary heavy equipment cleanup.

"There is a layer of mud that sits underneath the ground. Residents of The Mud placed fill dirt on top of that to build. There is a way to reclaim land and this is not done properly," he said.

"When we first came, we brought a lot of big, heavy equipment like the D8 and the 345 excavators. Those machines were too heavy for this geotechnical environment. We had to change course, bring smaller machines and send them ahead to conduct explorations. If we were to just drive over it, the machines would fall in. That was a lesson we learnt the hard way. We had a D8 tractor stuck for three days."

With corpses, hazardous materials such as gas tanks and sink holes to watch for, CPS has had to proceed slowly all the while praying the weather holds. Heavy rains would make their work near impossible, quickly saturating The Mud, which sits at water-table level, according to Mr Bascom.

CPS provides three hot meals per day and the company also purchased laptops, pool tables and a 40-inch flat screen TV to provide some comfort for their staff during the cleanup project in Marsh Harbour which is scheduled to be completed on December 20th, 2019.

"This is not just a pick-up and drop off to the landfill job," said CPS project manager Anthon Deveaux. "We must clear, sort and then drop off, proceeding with caution every step of the way. This is sensitive operation. This is what we do. We all have a sense of personal responsibility to not only be a part of the clean-up but to get it done right."