ST. PETERSBURG — As Tampa Bay residents became caught up in the frenzy of hurricane preparation, Cleopatra Sykes kept a nervous eye on the forecast for the Bahamas, where most of her relatives live.
Tuesday, as Hurricane Dorian moved slowly toward Florida’s east coast, leaving disaster in its wake, Sykes channeled her “extreme anxiety” into a plan to help those in the Bahamas whose lives had been pummeled by the Category 5 storm. A post on the Facebook page of Bethel Community Baptist Church in St. Petersburg, where she is a member and director of its preschool and school-age programs, asks for help “in response to the catastrophic destruction.”
“As a child, I only experienced hurricanes at a lower category. It was still horrifying,” said Skyes, who grew up in Freeport, Grand Bahama. Dorian hovered over Grand Bahama for more than 24 hours.
Sykes, like others with family in the Bahamas, has been communicating via WhatsApp.
“In Nassau, they have taken on a lot of flooding,” she said. “Freeport, on the other hand, this is something they have never experienced. My aunt, her main home, which is probably about 30 minutes from the water line, is completely submerged in the water. We have family members that we haven’t heard from yet.”
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Sykes said “well over 50” members of her mother’s family live on the eastern end of Grand Bahama. “The last we heard was they were being evacuated,” she said.
She added that houses constructed over the past 20 years have been built to withstand winds of up to 150 miles per hour, but many others lack the structural integrity to survive a hurricane like Dorian. “It is suspected that most of those homes may be completely gone,” she said.
Garth Albury, a retired Pinellas County educator born in Nassau, didn’t learn that a cousin, who lives in Freeport, was safe until Monday.
“He had to go into the attic with his family,” Albury said. “We didn’t hear from him for a day or two and finally, a cousin texted and said he was found and he was all right.”
Albury said he’s heard that 70 percent of Freeport is flooded. “They are going to have a lot of challenges.”
Joshua Johnson, St. Petersburg’s director of housing and community development, also has been communicating with family. His five sisters and their families live in Nassau and news from them has been more reassuring.
“They had some flooding. They didn’t have the wind that Freeport and Abaco had,” Johnson said.
In Tampa, Bishop Pedro Suarez, head of the Florida-Bahamas Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, is planning to visit the Bahamas as soon as travel is allowed. As of Tuesday, he and other church leaders had not heard from Pastor Cliff Lewis of Our Savior Lutheran Church in Freeport. It is the ELCA’s sole congregation in the Bahamas.
“I spoke with him on Friday and we texted on Saturday and the dean of our Broward-Bahamas Conference, Bill Knott, spoke with him from Fort Lauderdale on Sunday. But after that, we lost communication,'' Suarez said. "At that point, they were getting ready and he decided to stay.”
In a letter Tuesday, the bishop said the ELCA will work closely with partners to support the affected communities. Additionally, he said, “We will be finding additional ways to support and care for the community of Our Savior Lutheran Church.”
- Team Bahamas Hurricane Dorian Relief-St. Pete is collecting essential supplies, 8 a.m-6 p.m., through Thursday, at Bethel Community Baptist Church, 2901 54th Ave. S, St. Petersburg. Contact Cleopatra Sykes or Kenny Brown, (727) 344-9654 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Send financial donations to the Florida-Bahamas Synod, 3838 W Cypress St., Tampa, FL 33607. Call (813) 876-7660.
- The Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg is asking for donations for its Disaster Relief Fund for those impacted by Dorian. Mail to Disaster Relief Fund, Diocese of St. Petersburg, P.O. Box 40200, St. Petersburg, FL 33743-0200.