Locals join Bahamas rebuilding efforts

Three Prince George residents have returned home after two week operations in the Bahamas. As members of Team Rubicon Canada, they volunteered to help rebuild homes, schools, and medical facilities after Hurricane Dorian caused catastrophic damage in early September.

Team Rubicon is an international not-for-profit organization that specializes in disaster response. The first operation on Canadian soil was in Fort McMurray with members from around the globe arriving to assist. This action birthed the formation of Team Rubicon Canada, mirroring Team Rubicon USA, Team Rubicon Australia and Team Rubicon UK.

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"There were five waves of 37 Team Rubicon Canada Members from across the country that travelled to the Abaco Islands," Cristian Silva, the direct response unit manager for British Columbia NW, said. "The majority of our volunteers are veterans, active members of the armed forces, first responders and of course our kick ass civilians. The initial groups cleaned out a badly damaged school, "Every Child Counts", a vocational school for children and adults with special needs. We also make sure that buildings are structurally safe, remove fallen trees, tarp buildings and homes.

"When you talk with the survivors, you find yourself applying your training. That first morning Sept 1, many of the islanders were getting ready to go to church to pray and prepare for the hurricane. The hurricane hit the island three hours before it was scheduled. Some of them found themselves on the roads, they were getting dressed for church, and they encountered storm surges of over 20 feet, along with 295 km/hour sustained winds. Here is when you see real heroes. People that were seeing their neighbours struggling to stay afloat, some of them using their own vehicles to take people off of roofs. Others were getting in their boats fighting the high winds and rain to save fellow human beings. The hurricane lasted for almost 40 hours. Can you imagine what hell that must have been? Seeing family members disappearing in the waves, being buried under the rubble, but the people had to continue, to help their loved ones and neighbours survive."

Larry Sivell landed in the Bahamas on September 18.

"When I first arrived on the island of Abaco there were not a lot of locals to be seen as most had evacuated the island. We arrived shortly after Dorian had done her damage. No homes that I saw were inhabited and many of the roads still had trees across them, making access difficult. There were few if any cars on the roads some days but our own two suburbans and a medical van. In those early days you got to recognize who was out driving around the island. There is a lot to process as you drive around so much destruction. Most people don't hear about or see in a photo of a devastated area the smells that are left in the air after a situation like this, forcing us to line our masks with mentholated ointments to cover the odours just to be able to do our jobs. The absence of birds for the first ten days created an eerie environment unlike anything I had been in prior."

"No matter where we went on the island," adds Silva, "people said thank you to us. At one point I was buying something for the team, and the owner said that she was upset that we were leaving. She said 'I have met my heroes, and they don't wear capes, they wear grey shirts.' I want to say thank you to all my brothers and sisters from another mother from the United States, UK, Norway, and Canada. I am proud to wear that Greyshirt."

"We wouldn't be able to do it without the support from our community. The Forge, Three Ranges Brewing Company, Home Depot, Starbucks, and The Railway and Forestry Museum have been invaluable with their assistance."

Local members have in the last year also volunteered in Ottawa working on flood relief, Burns Lake with wildfire relief, and local projects that make a big difference, such as helping the Goodsir Nature Park with firewood and projects at The Forge in Quesnel.

For more information on Team Rubicon Canada, visit www.teamrubicon.ca.

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