Anglicans respond to Hurricane Dorian devastation

"We have never experienced such a storm in the history of the commonwealth of the Bahamas," says Archdeacon Keith Cartwright. Photo: Keith Cartwright
Published September 10, 2019

When Archdeacon Keith Cartwright, archdeacon of the southern Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands, visited Haiti in the wake of the 2010 earthquake, he thought he would never see anything close to that level of devastation again. But now, surveying the damage in his own diocese in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian, he sees that catastrophe mirrored. “Everything has been decimated,” he says.

Cartwright likens the destruction to “if you were chewing something and then you just spit it out. That’s how it looked. It was a horrific scene.”

Classified as a Category 5 hurricane when it struck the islands of Grand Bahama and Abaco, Dorian was one of the most powerful Caribbean storms on record.

“We have never experienced such a storm in the history of the commonwealth of the Bahamas. The storm went up past 185 mph [298 km/h], with gusts of 220 mph [354 km/h],” says Cartwright, whose responsibilities as archdeacon also include hurricane response.

The storm left as many as 70,000 in need of immediate humanitarian relief, according to Reuters. The death toll has risen to 50, and will likely continue to rise, as thousands of people remain missing.

Entire communities were destroyed by the winds and subsequent flooding, which left buildings underwater or washed away. Some 13,000 homes are reported to have been destroyed, according to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

The town of Marsh Harbour on the island of Abaco was completely decimated, Cartwright says. “Everything was destroyed, basically—we have no food store, no gas station, no bank…nothing left,” he says. St. John the Baptist Anglican Church in Marsh Harbour has “two big holes in the roof,” and was flooded with 10 feet (3 metres) of water, he adds; the parish hall was flooded after its roof was ripped off.

The storm caused high surge water, reaching 15 to 20 feet (4.5 to 6 metres) high, Cartwright says. “Some were able to swim to safety, others did not make it. We have quite a number of deaths. People saw people being washed away by the surge, people saw people dead after the surge receded on the land.”

Treasure Cay, also on Abaco, saw similar levels of devastation, Cartwright says. He adds that nearby community of Haitian migrants living in substandard housing, “like a shanty town,” suffered horrific damage. “It’s just a heap of rubble now…. We believe that a mass number of persons are still buried under the rubble there. That is what the responders are now trying to do, they have completed their rescue efforts now, but they are working on recovering the bodies of those persons that we believe are underneath that rubble. It is a very, very challenging situation right now on the ground.”

Cartwright works out of Nassau, the Bahamian capital on the island of New Providence, which escaped the hurricane’s path. He has been travelling daily to the affected islands with supplies and personnel.

Entire communities were destroyed by the high winds and subsequent flooding. Photo: Keith Cartwright

Anglican agencies have begun directing emergency funds to the islands in response. The Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund (PWRDF), the Anglican Church of Canada’s relief agency, is receiving donations and sending $20,000 to the U.S.-based Episcopal Relief & Development (ERD).

“PWRDF is pleased to be able to support Episcopal Relief & Development as they respond to the immediate needs of the people in the diocese of the Bahamas and Turks and Caicos. The devastation appears to be catastrophic, and we are in regular contact with our partners who are assessing needs daily,” PWRDF Communications Coordinator Janice Biehn told the Journal.

Episcopal Relief & Development is supporting a response in the Bahamas through Anglican Alliance, of which PWRDF is also a member.

PWRDF says Canadian Anglicans can help by keeping those affected by the hurricane in their prayers; downloading and sharing a Hurricane Dorian bulletin insert with their parish; and donating online at (select ‘Emergency Response’), by mail to PWRDF, 80 Hayden Street, 3rd floor, Toronto, M4Y 3G2 or by texting ‘PWRDF’ to 45678.

A GoFundMe page set up by Cartwright and Sonja Balfour, the diocesan financial comptroller, has so far raised more than $14,000.

Donations made to the page will go toward drinking water; food; temporary shelters; toiletries; generators; tarps; chainsaws and other tools; baby items such as formula and diapers; portable stoves and utensils; water treatment and filtration devices; mosquito repellent and netting; and building supplies for churches and homes.

Getting food, water and medical supplies to affected areas has been a challenge, but relief efforts have been helped by the assistance of the United States Coast Guard and military support sent by Britain and the Netherlands, Cartwright says. The government of Canada has pledged $500,000 for emergency relief. “We have been inundated with tremendous amounts of persons who are trying to help. But I can tell you, we need much more assistance…in terms of supplies but also in terms of cash donations.”

Evacuations by boat and plane have taken place, bringing people to Nassau, where people have been taken in by family and friends or housed in evacuation centres, Cartwright says.

Cartwright spoke to the Journal while in Nassau, preparing to return to the affected islands. “We go from Nassau either into Grand Bahama or into Abaco each day, and that’s what we’re doing. Tomorrow I take [diocesan Bishop Laish Boyd]…he wants to just go back again and to be there to pray with people, to encourage people. Just hold somebody’s hand, say, ‘I love you.’ Just to listen to the people’s situations.”

Recovery is going to take “a lot of time and effort on everybody’s part,” he says. “We cannot do it on our own. If there’s any time that we need a friend and a brother, it is time now for us—as sister commonwealth countries, as brother Anglicans in the Anglican Communion—to help us, desperately, here in the Bahamas.”

There are eight Anglican churches and two priests living in Abaco, Cartwright told the Journal, and seven Anglican churches on Grand Bahama. The diocese covers 21 Anglican churches in the Bahamas and four on the Turks and Caicos islands.

“Given our network of churches and personnel, the only entity more widespread than the Anglican (Episcopal) Church is the respective governments of The Bahamas and The Turks and Caicos Islands…The Church is always called on to distribute hurricane relief, trusted by national and international government and private sector agencies alike over many decades,” the GoFundMe page says.

Dorian hits Atlantic Canada

Over the weekend, Hurricane Dorian’s path swept up the Eastern Seaboard of the United States before moving northward to Canada.

In the U.S., evacuation orders were issued for millions of people in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina as meteorologists attempted to predict the hurricane’s path. It was downgraded to a Category 1 storm before making landfall in North Carolina, where the state’s Outer Banks received the brunt of the storm, with heavy winds and flooding.

The storm was classified as a Category 2 hurricane when it struck Atlantic Canada, making landfall in Nova Scotia on Saturday, Sept. 7. The storm left hundreds of thousands in Nova Scotia and thousands in P.E.I., New Brunswick and Newfoundland without power, the CBC reported.

In Nova Scotia, Dorian caused widespread flooding and downed trees and power lines, with winds even reportedly knocking over a crane in downtown Halifax.

Downed trees at Christ Church in Dartmouth, N.S. have temporarily closed the church’s parish hall—which houses church offices, community events, a busy food pantry and Anglican Journal Editorial Supervisor Matthew Townsend’s Halifax-area office. Photo: Matthew Townsend

In Dartmouth, N.S., the “City of Trees” was littered with fallen trees and branches, some that blocked roadways or knocked down electrical wires, says the Rev. Kyle Wagner, rector at Christ Church, Dartmouth. Three massive trees fell on church property over the weekend, one into the parish hall and another onto the building that houses the church’s boiler and propane source.

“Parishioners are safe. In terms of the hall, we’ve had to rearrange our rentals until matters are finalized with the insurance company and contractors. We also had to contact the propane company to make sure the property is secure…We have a weekly food bank with almost 70 clients (Thursday mornings). We are going to have to make alternative arrangements for this week. Not all parishioners have power, however our property does have power restored,” Wagner told the Journal in an email, adding that much of Nova Scotia still lacked power.

Luckily, he says, after the province’s experience during Hurricane Juan in 2003, people in general seemed well-prepared for the storm. “Our parishioners really treat one another like family, so there has been communication back and forth, as people check on one another.”

The storm also struck the Magdalen Islands, the archipelago in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, leaving them “in shambles,” according to the CBC, which reported winds gusting at 150 km/h. No injuries have been reported.

“We’re grateful that no one has been killed or injured. When you see what the damage has been in some parts of the islands, it’s horrendous,” says the Rev. Cynthia Patterson, incumbent in the parish of the Magdalen Islands, which includes the parishes of Holy Trinity on Grosse-Île and All Saints Memorial on Entry Island.

While the area where her parish is located made it through relatively unscathed, parts of the islands have seen personal and fishing boats destroyed and cabins and cottages ripped apart and flooded.

“We give thanks that people were not hurt and killed. We know [for] many, many people, their livelihoods would have been seriously imperiled, and that’s difficult when you’re dealing with an economy that’s based on fishing and tourism. That would have been a double hit for a lot of people,” says Patterson.

Winds were so strong, Patterson says, that Holy Trinity’s bolted steel doors were blown open, and one blown off its hinges. Luckily, she says, the church’s interior doors held, protecting its famous 1970s stained glass triptych that features and Atlantic Canadian vision of Jesus wearing rubber boots and calling out to disciples in hand-knit sweaters and carrying lobster traps.

On Entry Island, the storm felled another church landmark: a huge lit cross that stood in front of All Saints Memorial. The cross was erected in 1988 in memory of five people who had drowned the previous year. “You can see for miles around, it’s lit up at night—it was an impressive, a strong reminder of what the island wants to stand for in its steadfast worship,” says Patterson.

Bishop of the diocese of Quebec Bruce Myers posted an image to social media of the cross, before and after it was toppled and destroyed by the storm.

“Despite this and other damage on the islands, it appears that everyone is safe. Thanks be to God,” Myers wrote. “For Christians, the cross is the ultimate sign of resurrection and restoration in the midst of hopelessness and seeming defeat. As Magdalen Islanders and other people across Atlantic Canada set to repairing and rebuilding in Dorian’s wake, may they do so with faith and hope in the promise that even in the midst of destruction, God in Christ is present and making all things new.”


  • Joelle Kidd

    Joelle Kidd was a staff writer for the Anglican Journal from 2017 to 2021.

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