‘Unimaginable’ storm damage

HSA volunteer recounts Dorian devastation in Bahamas

HSA nurse Riley Ondoy was a member of the first Cayman medical relief team on the ground in the Bahamas after the passage of Hurricane Dorian. – Photo: Reshma Ragoonath

When registered nurse Riley Ondoy touched down in the Bahamas, his 20 years of training prepared him to help those impacted by hurricane Dorian, but he was not prepared for the devastation that lay before his eyes.

“It was unimaginable. It was as if someone dropped a bomb and the rubble was scattered all about,” Ondoy said in an interview with the Cayman Compass Friday.

Hurricane Dorian struck the Bahamas last month, killing more than 50 people and leaving thousands homeless. The Category 5 storm spent three days battering the island chain.

Ondoy, a Health Services Authority nurse, spent two weeks in the Bahamas as part of Cayman’s first six-member relief team dispatched to assist. He returned a week ago.

His team consisted of four HSA nurses and two Health City nurses. A second team was dispatched a week ago to continue relief efforts.

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Ondoy said this was not his first time helping with Cayman’s hurricane relief. In 2017, he was on the ground in Anguilla after the passage of Hurricane Irma. He said what he saw in Abaco did not compare.

“We were driven around town, where it used to be a very vibrant community, [and] it is just nothing, practically nothing. I had that thought in my mind that sometimes the news is exaggerated, but when I reached there, it was compounded. There was this big space where they say the Haitian community used to be, and you just saw an open space with no houses at all,” he said.

Ondoy said when he volunteered for the Bahamas mission, he was eager to go and help.

“When I got there, it dawned on me that I did not know what I [was] getting myself into. You do not know the extent of what you are going through until you get there,” he said.

Ondoy said when Cayman’s team touched down in Nassau, they spent two days helping at the evacuation centres. They were then dispatched to Marsh Harbour in Abaco.

“Upon arriving at the airport, there was no light; it was dark,” he said. “We had to collect our luggage. There was no carousel. The military personnel were already there.”

Ondoy said it was a “really scary” scenario for the team.

Cayman’s team was split between a satellite clinic and a public health clinic, he said. He was dispatched to the public health clinic in Marsh Harbour.

“They had services, but the problem really was [that] there was no staff, like the doctors, nurses, aides and the support staff. [They] were also victims of Dorian. They had to be either shipped off the island or were given the time off,” he said.

However, he said, there were other medical professionals from Nassau there.

“We worked eight hours shifts a day. We lived and worked in the hospital. There is really nowhere to go. When you go into Marsh Harbour, it was just devastation and at night it was pitch black. Outside the premises of the clinic was pitch black. The clinic has generators, but outside of it was just dark,” Ondoy said.

He said they slept in sleeping bags that the US military distributed, and they were given warm meals, sometimes just once a day, from an NGO.

He said the team mostly handled non-emergency cases, like tetanus injections, blood pressure checks and blood sugar checks.

However, he said, there were three emergencies while he was there.

“It was rather scary because we had a clinic; we were not an emergency hospital …. You did not have much in that facility,” he said.

While he said it was most taxing to be living and working in the clinic, he would do it again to help his fellow man.

“Have I made a difference? Have I made my Cayman Islands proud? I think so. You are there to support them, you are there to lend a hand and, for me, the team was a great help for the island itself,” Ondoy said.

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