U of L employees volunteer for disaster-recovery effort in The Bahamas

Two University of Lethbridge employees who volunteer with Team Rubicon have returned from a two-week deployment to provide disaster recovery in The Bahamas following Hurricane Dorian. Eric Foster, team lead with Campus Safety, and Nolan Meyer, emergency preparedness coordinator, were stationed in Marsh Harbour on Abaco Island, where the tropical cyclonestalled for about 30 hours.

Nolan Meyer, standing at left, and Eric Foster, fourth from left, volunteered with Team Rubicon to help with recovery from Hurricane Dorian.

They faced a landscape like nothing they’d ever seen before. Trees were bent over or snapped in two. Sea cans from the harbour had been tossed about the landscape from a storm surge that was as high as seven to 12 metres. Rotting vegetation provided a perfect breeding ground for flies and other insects. The only electricity was supplied by generators and water supplies were limited.

“It was hot and humid, over 30 degrees during the day,” says Meyer. “It looked like bombs had gone off everywhere. There were vehicles overturned and smashed and impaled on road poles. There were I-beams through palm trees, boats were upside down, roofs were gone, buildings were gone.”

 They were part of wave two for Team Rubicon, which consisted of 10 Canadians and 58 Americans. Team Rubicon, a disaster response organization, is part of a global response in The Bahamas. Many non-government organizations were also on the ground to help with recovery efforts.

“Several NGOs were there, from disaster recovery to organizations trying to establish IT services,” says Foster.

Foster and Meyer cleared roadways, conducted damage assessments, mucked out homes and other buildings, removing damaged materials and getting rid of mould. They ripped out walls, all while wearing Tyvek suits and masks for protection.

“It was so hot that we could only ever work inside a residence for 15 minutes at a time,” says Meyer. “Anything past that was heat exhaustion. We would sit in an air-conditioned truck to cool down before we could go back in again.”

They heard many sad stories from the locals, like how sharks ended up in people’s homes because of the storm surge and how some people were trapped in their attics for days at a time while they waited for the water levels to recede.

“There were some good stories of people helping people during the storm, too,” says Foster. “One gentleman we spoke to — we were working on his mother’s house — said they went out onto their roof during the eye of the storm and heard people screaming for help. So, they left their house and rescued 18 people from an apartment complex about a half a block away. They swam back to their house and hunkered down for the other half of the storm. Those people survived.”

“Everyone was very appreciative that we were there to try and help,” says Meyer. “It’s nice to be part of a humanitarian effort to try and help people. We appreciate that the University made it possible for us to take the time to go down and help. It was a terrible event and a great experience for us. You come home and you realize the value of what we have here.”

“Everything from a simple thing like having running water or switching a light on,” adds Foster.

Entering the second week of their deployment, team members were asked to submit the name of someone on the team who’d worked hard and was a positive team player. Foster was selected by many as the person to be MVP.

“It was very humbling,” says Foster. “It’s nice to be recognized for the hard work and I kind of felt like I was representing Canada.”

When asked if they would do it again, neither hesitates before saying yes.

“We were mentally and physically exhausted at the end of two weeks,” says Meyer. “It’s going to take generations for Bahamians to truly rebuild their lives. If people want to donate, I encourage them to donate to Team Rubicon Canada, which is purely volunteer and operates entirely on donations. Go online and donate or join. This is a volunteer disaster-response organization that embraces anybody who wants to join.”