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'It's hard to watch': How Bahamian-Canadians are coping with news of death and destruction back home

The last two days have been among the most difficult for two Bahamian men living in Canada, as news trickles in of the death and destruction left by Hurricane Dorian on Abaco and Freeport in the Bahamas.

At least 5 people confirmed dead after Hurricane Dorion tore through the Bahamas

Volunteers rescue several families that arrived on small boats, from the rising waters of Hurricane Dorian, near the Causarina bridge in Freeport, Grand Bahama, Bahamas, Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2019. The storm’s punishing winds and muddy brown floodwaters devastated thousands of homes, crippled hospitals and trapped people in attics. (Ramon Espinosa/The Associated Press)

The last two days have been among the most difficult for two Bahamian men living in Canada, as news trickles in of the death and destruction left by Hurricane Dorian on Abaco and Freeport in the Bahamas.

"It's not fun," Andre Deveaux said when asked what it's like having to watch the devastation from afar.

"It's hard to watch and just get bits and pieces of news here and there and you can't really do much to help."

Deveaux, a firefighter who once played with the Toronto Maple Leafs and New York Rangers, says he's not been able to contact his father in Freeport since the storm.

"I'm hoping he's okay. I've saw pictures of my half-brother's mother's place and he is only 15-20 minutes away from there," Deveaux told CBC Toronto on Tuesday.

Andre Deveaux, a firefighter who once played for the Toronto Maple Leafs and New York Rangers, says he’s not been able to contact his father in the Bahamas since Hurricane Dorian struck. (Grant Linton/CBC)

"Fingers are crossed, I think he's okay. He lives by himself so I'm a little worried, but I think everybody is in the same boat there. Even if you are okay after the hurricane, I think infrastructure is going to be a problem."

Deveaux, who has several other relatives living in Freeport, says he's been able to make contact with a cousin — Sean Deveaux.

'I want to help'

"I want to help, I am a firefighter now. Even in hockey, I stuck up for the little guy and I think people in the Bahamas are in need right now and I want to be there. I want to be on the ground helping with the skills I've been given," he said.

For now though, all he's able to do is help GlobalMedic, a registered Canadian charity, which has launched an emergency appeal to respond to the hurricane.

"That's where they need me right now so I'm trying to make my mark that way," Deveaux said.

GlobalMedic says the hurricane, the strongest in the history of the Bahamas, has damaged infrastructure and caused massive flooding in the areas of Abaco and Grand Bahama.

Charity wants to deliver 'life-saving aid right away'

The charity's executive director, Rahul Singh, says based on their initial reading of the situation, the main challenge will be to get the relief supplies quickly to the affected islands.

"These are remote islands. Abaco has about 10,000 inhabitants, Grand Bahama has about 40,000, so the population is not huge. The problem is they are on an island," Singh told CBC Toronto.

"What we are gearing up for is to get in and make sure that we deliver the life-saving aid right away."  

He says the charity is also offering other technical help to the Bahamas, including its drone program.

Singh says with the high-end drones they can grab images and make a comprehensive damage assessment.

"If we get better information, aid is delivered faster, more lives are saved," he said.

GlobalMedic’s executive director Rahul Singh says the charity is also offering technical help to the Bahamas, including its drone program. (Grant Linton/CBC)

"Damage assessments are still ongoing, however five people have been killed and over 68,000 people in the Bahamas have been affected by the storm," the agency said in a statement announcing its appeal.

"With damage extensive, people in the Bahamas are in immediate need of clean water, food, and shelter items."

Meanwhile, Chris Ashton, another Bahamian-Canadian with friends and family in the Bahamas, says he's anxious to go check on them and to assist in any way possible.

"This morning, I heard from a friend of mine named Jamie who is now on his way to rescue his parents," Aston told CBC News.

"They've been up in the rafters for about 24 hours now with the water all the way up to the roof of the house. I'm anxious to hear from him as to how he is now and whether he's been able to rescue his folks, their three pets and some visitors who are there with them."

Chris Ashton says he's coordinating relief supplies, which will be taken to Florida, then on to the Bahamas. (CBC)

When asked about the reports he's heard and the pictures he's seen so far, Ashton said the island of Abaco needs a complete rebuild.

"It's nothing but heartbreak. It's catastrophic. We've never seen a hurricane sit on top of an island for so long with up to 200 mph winds. It's unreal," he said.

"How are they going to rebuild? The Bahamian people, they are people of faith and that's what keeps them strong, but this is something unprecedented."

Lots of friends of the Bahamas in Toronto

Ashton says there are lots of friends of the Bahamas in Toronto, and he's taken the lead in getting relief supplies together. He says they've set up a GoFundMe page hoping to raise $20,000.

"We're a very small country but many people love the Bahamas. So we have friends here who luckily have the means of bringing supplies down to Florida and eventually over to Bahamas," Ashton explained.

"We are buying supplies. We plan to take those supplies down to Florida and whenever the ships are going over — ferries or cruise ship — we will go over," he said.

"And I am going to accompany those supplies because I need to get over there, see my friends, assess the situation and help in any way I can."

With files from CBC's Ali Chiasson

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