Alyssa Miller

Reaching forgotten islands

August 29, 2011 by Alyssa Miller, AOPA Online Managing Editor

I’ve always dreamed about visiting the Bahamas Islands. Romantic walks on the beach at sunset. You get the picture. I never dreamed that my first trip to the Bahamas would be as part of a disaster relief effort. Yet in less than 12 hours AOPA Staff Photographer Chris Rose and I will be participating in relief flights with Bahamas Habitat. A Baron and Aztec are just two of the aircraft that will be flying supplies over multiple days to Cat Island, Eleuthera, and Acklins Island.

The Bahamas were hard hit by Hurricane Irene, a category 3 storm, but attention quickly shifted from the Bahamas to the East Coast of the United States as many feared the devastation the hurricane would cause if it hit multiple highly populated areas along the coast.

According to Bahamas Habitat Aviation and Disaster Relief Coordinator Cameron King, no deaths were reported from the storm in the Bahamas. However, some of the smaller, non-tourist-attraction areas with weak or little infrastructure are suffering.

King says relief operations typically fall into three categories: “stop the bleeding,” as in major disasters such as the Haiti earthquake; “come up for air”; and the long-term rebuilding process. These relief flights to the Bahamas fall into the last category. King, who has flown many missions to Haiti, says it is a blessing that no lives were lost because of Hurricane Irene and that the greatest need right now is to meet basic human needs: food, water, and shelter. On some of the islands, there is no power and no way to sanitize drinking water. Since Aug. 26, Bahamas Habitat has been working with volunteer pilots to fly food, water, and materials to help create temporary fixes to damaged houses. Generators and roof tarps are essential. Acklins Island, one of the southern sparsely populated islands, was hardest hit and sustained major damage to nearly all of the homes.

On Tuesday morning, Aug. 30, volunteer pilots and a work group will team up to deliver supplies to many locations and help on the ground with the cleanup effort. I’m looking forward to meeting these generous volunteers, like Jon Short, who is not short at all, King jokes, and Cowboy (that’s the only name King gives for him) who will help lead the first Bahamas Habitat work team on the islands. Both have helped with Haiti relief efforts. One group will be leaving Alabama at 2 a.m. Central Tuesday to arrive in time for the 7 a.m. meeting to get the day started.

This trip will be pretty much the opposite of what I had dreamed about the Bahamas; but participating in mission aviation and the relief effort will, no doubt, make my dream pale in comparison. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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