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Bahamas see long-term need

With hundreds of homes destroyed on Grand Bahama island alone, officials from the Bahamas said they were also looking at long-term economic fallout left by Hurricane Frances.

BY SUSAN KIM | BALTIMORE | September 6, 2004

With hundreds of homes destroyed on Grand Bahama island alone, officials from the Bahamas said they were also looking at long-term economic fallout left by Hurricane Frances.

People in the storm-prone Bahamas are known for their preparedness skills, and residents were ready for Frances, said a community development specialist. "For the most part, people were prepared for the hurricane," he said.

But even as Hurricane Ivan churned in the Atlantic, he said long-term effects of Frances look serious for working families in the Bahamas who earn their living through agriculture or tourism.

"Hurricane Frances will eventually have a devastating impact on the local economy," he said. "Farmers have lost their produce with no way to replace it."

Temporary shutdowns or complete loss of tourism spots will also put people out of work, he said. "In light of this fact, this disaster can eventually lead to a catastrophe."

Even in areas with little structural damage, "there is potential for the situation to deteriorate in weeks and months to come," he said.

By Monday morning, local officials were emphasizing the importance of fixing damaged roofs before Ivan potentially hits.

"It is important that individuals get their roofs fixed so that the water that Ivan is supposed to bring will not destroy their homes," he said.

Frances pounded the Bahamas for two days, leaving at least two people dead. Officials on Monday said they feared the death toll could rise as damage assessments continued. Grand Bahama - home to some 50,000 people - looked to be hardest hit. "There was much flooding and devastation there," said the community development specialist.

In the Bahamas, community development groups and churches are taking on an increasingly visible role in disaster response and preparation. At least some local community leaders and clergy said they wished residents would move more toward local preparation instead of constantly looking to the government - especially since the potential for large hurricanes is growing, in part due to global warming, according to scientists.

"There is a need for new ways of thinking about the future," said the community development specialist. "Before the storm some residents depended upon the government for plywood to secure their houses. They also depended upon the government for food. After the storm they depended on the government to clean up their streets and yards. This is what they have been taught to expect from government," he said.

But - especially after large storms, or two hurricanes in a row - the government can't always respond quickly. Community leaders would like to see "locals coming together to organize themselves and establish a strategic plan," when it comes to disasters, he said.

Meanwhile U.S.-based disaster response groups were planning to offer assistance in the Bahamas as well. Lutheran Disaster Response - among many other faith-based groups - reported it was meeting to assess needs and plan a response. The United Methodist Committee on Relief also reported it was planning to work ecumenically to assess needs.

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