Members of the Bulloch County Volunteer Organization Active in Disaster (VOAD) met Friday with several local university students who have families in the Bahamas affected by Hurricane Dorian.
Emotions were evident in voices of students and volunteers alike as they spoke of the horrors caused by the massive storm — lost contact with family members, missing relatives, and deaths. But mixed with the sorrow and fear were hope and encouragement as plans were being formed to get the students reunited with family and deliver disaster relief to the islands.
DeWayne Grice led the meeting, which included several others involved in groups such as the Christian Social Ministries (CSM). The meeting was held at the Bulloch County Emergency Operations Center (EOC). Public safety officials and Bulloch County Commission Chairman Roy Thompson also attended.
VOAD members discussed plans already in motion to arrange transportation fort the students. Plans are still in early stages, but local pilots are being organized to provide flights to the Bahamas for the students. Fayebeth Ball said travel restrictions are in place until martial law is declared in the Bahamas, but flights will be arranged as soon as possible.
Fostering Bulloch’s Chris Yaughn discussed plans to take the students and a trailer of donated items to Ft. Lauderdale, where they can be taken by cruise ships back and forth until larger-scale deliveries of donated items can be made.
Only a handful of students were at the meeting but they said there were about 20 Bahamian students at Georgia Southern University, with possibly a few more at other area colleges. Grice said efforts were being made to identify and locate the other students to offer them help. GSU officials are also aiding in the efforts, he said.
As they spoke, the students shared emotions as they described being “stateside” and helpless as they watched the hurricane’s destruction, hovering over the Bahamas for over 30 hours.
Peter Williams, 23, a mechanical engineering student at GSU, talked about watching videos of the storm and seeing evidence of its wrath, while his family could not access news reports due to the storm. When he warned them by phone of flooding, “they thought I was joking,: he said. He kept losing contact with family members, and when he was able to reach them again, they said the water was rising.
Brittni Swain, 23, a GSU business management student, said she was “a hot mess:” because her family lost three members in the storm, due to drowning, and a five-year-old relative is still missing. The frustration of not being able to help weighs heavily. she said.
Lauryn Smith. 22, an electrical engineering major, said she was one of the fortunate ones in that she was able to keep in contact wither family, and that everyone survived the hurricane. But, “there was 15 feet of water in my home,” and all was destroyed.
As the students shared their fears and concerns, others assured them help was coming.
“This is the most giving community any of you have ever seen in your life. Thompson said.
Grice agreed. “You are part of our family now,” he told the students.
CSM leader Pastor John Long led a prayer for the storm victims and then said there will be blue barrels placed throughout the county and city to collect items for the disaster relief efforts.
Some locations include the Bulloch County Annex, Bulloch County 911, Bulloch County Sheriff’s Office, Morris Bank, Synovus on Brannen Street, CSM pantries on East Parrish Street and in College Plaza.
Clothing items are not needed, except for maybe socks, Grice said. The logistics of delivering the right size clothes to victims poses problems, but gift cards can be donated so victims and family members can purchase appropriately-sized clothing fr specific needs.
Volunteers asked the students to maintain contact and report specific needs of those in the Bahamas as well as needs of their own. Several students were worried over mounting tuition and other bills, being unable to access funds from banks back home. Several volunteers assured them they would be cared for as well. “No need is too small,” Long said.
While plans to help are still being worked out, he urges residents to donate. Items needed include tarps, flashlights, toiletries, mosquito netting, socks, leather work gloves, diapers, baby wipes, first aid kits, paper towels and toilet paper, bottled water, antibacterial gel, and nonperishable foods.
Information about further relief efforts and needs will be published as details are made available.
Herald reporter Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at 912-489-9414.