With mere hours left in 2013 tragedy struck the migrant village known as the Pigeon Pea destroying a large number of shanty homes, leaving hundreds homeless and a mother and child dead as the New Year rolled in.
Volunteer firemen from Marsh Harbour Volunteer Fire and Rescue (MHVFR), Treasure Cay Fire Crash and Rescue and Bahama Palm Shores Fire Department took part in a six hour fight against an enormous blaze which destroyed the southern portion of the extremely congested community.
Danny Sawyer, fire chief of MHVFR, said the fire fighters were challenged with accessing the area due to narrow entrances lined with cars and residents moving in and out seeking to save their possessions from the fire. He added that the capabilities of the fire department was pushed to its limits with personnel and equipment as this fire represented a worst-case scenario.
Mr. Sawyer said that assistance was called in from Treasure Cay and Bahama Palm Shores’ fire departments and their assistance was what helped turn the tide in finally bring the fire under control. “We are grateful today for those department’s help, they certainly made a difference. We are also thankful for those who brought us water and helped in other ways.”
While the cause of the fire is still being investigated it is believed to have started in the home where mother and son, believed to be Darlene Jacobs and one-year-old Dornel Jacobs Jr., both perished.
Preliminary numbers suggest as many as 70 homes, possibly more, were destroyed leaving hundreds homeless while according to early reports about 250 residents have come forward so far; however, there are possibly more as often many fear deportation if they seek assistance.
One resident reported that it was “total chaos while fire fighters were trying to put the fire out.” They said they faced difficulties because residents were running in and out trying to get their furniture and clothing and there were many cars blocking a lot of the structures.
“It was a tough time for them. It is total devastation over here. Even the homes that did not get totally destroyed have water damage or damage to the roof. A lot of these people are illegal so they aren’t even going to get the help from the government because they do not want to get deported. This is total disaster,” said a witness who did not want to be named.
Deputy Prime Minister Philip Brave Davis and other officials traveled to Abaco the morning following the fire to conduct an initial assessment.
Mr. Davis said the government sympathizes with residents and their loss.
He said the government will assist, and will also ensure residents “help themselves” by preventing them from rebuilding unsafe structures with improper electrical set ups, which he called a “trap”.
“For them, they are crying for our help and we intend to help,” he said.
“That is why the prime minister immediately dispatched me here this morning to see first-hand what is going on.
“We understand and we empathize with the residents here, but I cry out to the residents that they need to help themselves.
“We are going to do our part [to ensure] that they live in safe, sanitary surroundings.”
Davis said a Ministry of Works official has been appointed to monitor the shantytowns on the island to assist in preventing any further structures from being built contrary to proper regulations.