Angel St. Denis checks up on a Bahamian affected by Hurricane Dorian. (Contributed)

Salmon Arm relief worker provides aid in Bahamas

Following the disaster the official death toll sits at 56

  • Oct. 9, 2019 12:00 a.m.

As Hurricane Dorian was making its way up the continent’s east coast, blowing its final gusts, a Salmon Arm relief worker was on her way to help those caught in its path.

When news reports started to show the damage dealt by the Category 5 storm, Angel St. Denis started packing her bags.

St. Denis, the head nurse at the Good Samaritan Hillside Village in Salmon Arm and registered psychiatric nurse, headed to Grand Bahama island, where the hurricane lingered for more than 24 hours.

With winds reaching nearly 300 km/h, the island was almost completely flooded and houses were levelled, leaving more than 70,000 Bahamians homeless.

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St. Denis arrived in the Bahamas on Sept. 8, five days after the hurricane left the island to wreak havoc in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland.

Working as a volunteer with Crisis Response International (CRI), St. Denis and the organization had a big job ahead of them.

The island was without power, hospitals were ravaged, freshwater had been contaminated when the ocean flooded the island and food was scarce.

CRI bought solar lights and made care packages containing food to be distributed to the Bahamian people.

A makeshift medical clinic was constructed and St. Denis set to work treating people for trauma.

“It starts out with bringing them into a safe space where they can share their story because it needs to come out,” St. Denis said.

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She heard the story of an American family that stayed up in their attic for three days because the water had completely flooded their home.

The father brought a chainsaw because he thought he would be able to cut out the roof if the water came up any higher.

Some people shared their stories with her in the form of conversation, others wrote their experiences in a journal.

In cases where children were involved, they would draw what happened to them during the storm.

“They experience deep rooted trauma, they experience loss,” she said.

“There’s loss of family members, loss of community, loss of infrastructure. Everything was destroyed.”

For two and a half weeks St. Denis provided aid, speaking with those affected and handing out care packages and solar lights.

In the time she was there, she noticed survivors began to find solace in each other.

“People that survived the storm are honestly so thankful and grateful and so resilient that they are starting to come together as a community,” she said.

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In the weeks following the disaster, the number of missing Bahamians plummeted from 2,500 to 600 while the official death toll reached 56.

As of October 1, 424 people remain missing.

Although coverage for the disaster has dwindled following U.S. President Donald Trump’s map editing controversy, St. Denis wants to make it clear that the Bahamian people are still facing vast hardships.

“It’s a small window of media and then they move onto something else, but it’s not over by any means,” she said.

“To the people of Salmon Arm, I would say everything counts, whether they can pray about it or they can sow financially into an organization to help, or whether they can go there and respond — every little drop in the bucket counts to help save a life.”

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Bahamians still need more trauma support, councillors and help with mental health, St. Denis said.

“People there say they think they are going crazy because they have many traumatic symptoms,” she said.

For those who wish to donate or volunteer, a step-by-step guide on how to donate money, a preferred item donation list and volunteer registration forms can be found on the Bahamas government website

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