PEI

'Truly traumatic': Bahamians studying on P.E.I. worry about family following hurricane

Imagine being about 2,700 kilometres away from home and all you can do is watch as a powerful hurricane hits, flooding homes and devastating families. 

Bahamians studying 2,700km away as their home cleans up after Hurricane Dorian

There are over 200 Bahamians studying on P.E.I. Some of those students displayed images of the devastation in the region following Hurricane Dorian and helped secure donations for relief. (Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC)

Imagine being about 2,700 kilometres away from home and all you can do is watch as a powerful hurricane hits, flooding homes and destroying communities.

That is the exact reality many Bahamians on P.E.I. studying at Holland College and UPEI faced as they watched Hurricane Dorian decimate portions of their home over a three-day span.

Keyshawn Bonamy is just one of those students — he has been on Prince Edward Island since 2016 and is studying economics at UPEI.

"This has been a truly traumatic event, not just for me personally but a lot of Bahamian students on campus and within P.E.I.," said Bonamy who is from Nassau, the capital of the Bahamas.

"This has been one of the worst storms on record to hit our country. A lot of the northern islands have been completely devastated."

Keyshawn Bonamy works for the Rotaract Club of UPEI and was fundraising at the school to supply rotary clubs who are helping with hurricane relief down in the Bahamas. (Laura Meader/CBC)

There are about 50,000 people on the island of Grand Bahama and about 30 per cent of the area is underwater, Bonamy said.

"We are taking this tragedy and we are using it to do something for our home," he said.

Bonamy works for the Rotaract Club of UPEI and was fundraising at the school to supply rotary clubs who are helping with hurricane relief down in the Bahamas.

UPEI officials say approximately 80 students from the Bahamas are currently enrolled at the university.

They are providing ways for students to connect with government officials. The Chaplaincy Centre and the international student office is also open to provide support and there are a number of fundraising initiatives underway, officials said.

'I haven't spoken to my mother in three days,' says Vermae Phillippe. (Laura Meader/CBC)

Vermae Phillippe is from Freeport, a city in Grand Bahama, and said she hasn't heard from family officially, but has heard her mother is okay.

"I haven't spoken to my mother in three days," she said.

Voilantino Fils-Aime is another on P.E.I. watching the Bahamas closely. He's from the Abaco Islands, one of the areas impacted the most.

"Where I am from, Abaco… its like everything is completely gone, that's crazy," he said. Looking at pictures from how the area was to what it has been reduced to, he said, is going to take a long time to process.

Voilantino Fils-Aime is from the Abaco Islands, one of the areas impacted the most, and he hasn't heard from family or friends. (Laura Meader/CBC)

He is studying energy system engineering at Holland College and said he is feeling terrible because he hasn't heard from his family and friends since the hurricane hit.

"It's been like four days, I haven't heard nothing. I have been trying to post on Facebook." He still hasn't heard anything from friends or family in the area and said it's heartbreaking for everyone.

"People weren't prepared, they didn't think this was going to happen, you know. They just thought this was an actual regular hurricane," he said.

The president of Holland College says the administration is doing whatever it can to provide support to students from the Bahamas.

"First and foremost we're making all of our counselors available for the Bahamian students and their families because a number of them have come with their families," Sandy MacDonald said.

"We've been in touch with the Bahamian Ministry of Education who sponsors many of our students."

There are about 150 students at the college from that area and more than a third of those are from the islands hardest hit by hurricane Dorian, said MacDonald.

A message has been set out to all Bahamian students at the college outlining the impacts of the hurricane in the Bahamas.

Extending deadlines

The school understands if students are finding it difficult to concentrate on their studies with so much devastation at home, he said.

Hurricane Dorian hammered the Bahamas for three days. (Tim Aylen/The Associated Press)

"We're making sure that any deadlines that we have as a college are pretty flexible when dealing with Bahamian students," MacDonald said.

"Also some of the issues around visas and deadlines that we have imposed on students we are waving those to make sure the students feel comfortable."

With the hurricane, communication is poor with banks in the Bahamas, he said, and the college is meeting daily to discuss what to do next, such as fundraising efforts.

"We are really concerned about how to most effectively help."

MacDonald said there are also many Bahamians who have graduated from the college and live on P.E.I.

More P.E.I. news

With files from Angela Walker and Laura Meader

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