NASSAU, Bahamas — Rescue and relief efforts continue in the Bahamas after a direct hit from Hurricane Dorian over the weekend.
The storm’s 185 mile-per-hour winds obliterated thousands of homes. At least 30 people have been killed and hundreds of others are still missing.
The U.S. Coast Guard has delivered relief aid and has also helped in the rescue effort, pulling more than 200 people to safety so far. Meanwhile, the World Food Programme estimates about 60,000 people may be in dire need of food relief — but access is a major problem. Airports are destroyed, roads are impassable and communications are difficult.
With that in mind, aid is coming from an unlikely source: Cruise ships that were supposed to take people on vacation ended up taking them on relief missions instead.
San Diego native Frank Collins was onboard one of those ships. His vacation was planned and his flights were booked, but one thing stood in the way of his birthday trip going to plan: The Category 5 Hurricane Dorian doing unprecedented damage to his destination point, the Bahamas. “Because of the human tragedy that was taking place, we were thinking, ‘Does it really make sense to get on a cruise ship and be there right as this thing is leaving and afterwards?'” he said.
Collins said the Bahamian government sent him and others bound for the Bahamas information explaining why their visit was so important. “Half of their gross domestic product is related to tourism,” Collins said. “That’s what really tipped the decision for us.”
Nearly a quarter of that Royal Caribbean ship’s passengers cancelled, but that also meant there were extra supplies onboard.
When the ship arrived at the Bahamas, Collins’ vacation became a mission to help as the Royal Caribbean crew gave the islands things like food, water, diapers, generators and other supplies.
“There was a sense of jubilance among them as they were putting the supplies onto the tugboats that came alongside and taking those into the town, and I’m assuming distributing them once they got there,” Collins said.
Collins and others were able to dock and get off the ship to visit Nassau, which was not as hard-hit as other parts of the islands. The visitors took the opportunity to do what they could to support the local economy and talk to the people who were directly affected by the hurricane.
“There’s a real sense of unease. Communications from the island are still completely down,” Collins said. “Here we are three-plus days since the storm left and there’s not a lot of real-time information that’s coming from the Bahamas.”
Collins’ ship is one of about a half-dozen around the island. Their trip was shortened by a day because of the hurricane, though Collins said everyone for the most part understood the circumstances and embraced the unexpected nature of the experience.