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After Dorian, Bahamian PM Minnis Challenged With Relocating Homeless


It has been mostly sunny and nearly 90 degrees on Great Abaco Island in the Bahamas today. The catastrophic wind and rain of Hurricane Dorian have moved on to the Carolinas, and it is hard to find words to describe the devastation left behind. One Abaco resident told the Miami Herald that when he emerged after the storm, all the churches were gone. The death toll currently stands at 20. That is expected to rise. Thousands of people are homeless, and children need a place to go to school. Those children were on the mind of Hubert Minnis - he is prime minister of the Bahamas - when I reached him today in Nassau.

PRIME MINISTER HUBERT MINNIS: There will be hundreds of children who would have been displaced in terms of their education, as no schools open on Monday, and therefore, that will be a challenge for us. So we would have an agency chaplain meeting to make a determination, transferring many of the children here to complete their education.

KELLY: When you say bringing the - transferring the children, you mean bringing them to Nassau and other cities that were not hit?

MINNIS: That's right...

KELLY: I see.

MINNIS: ...Bringing them especially to Nassau where they can temporarily stay with other families so that their education is not broken. Just - it's essential that we get these kids back into school as quickly as possible.

KELLY: And then, in terms of the physical destruction, we have been watching pictures come in that are heartbreaking of, you know, buildings washed away, docks washed away, the airports under water. I interviewed Vice Admiral Scott Bushman of the U.S. Coast Guard yesterday. He had just taken that aerial tour with you of some of those very hard-hit areas. He characterized the destruction he saw in your country as the most significant he has seen in his 35 years of service. Would you just paint me a picture of what you saw and what that was like to fly over?

MINNIS: Just think of a city that has developed proper health facilities, proper schools, roads, (unintelligible), water. They have developed a downtown, all the different infrastructure. Think of that existing today, and then tomorrow, it's completely flattened - mounds of rubble, some concrete, some wood - wooden docks especially - completely destroyed. Boats on the land - it's mind-boggling. It's something you've never seen before.

KELLY: I saw you've described the damage as generational, meaning - what? - that it will take decades to rebuild?

MINNIS: Yes, it will take a long time to rebuild, but be assured that we're a resilient nation, and we will build our country back even stronger. We've experienced hurricanes before. The islands have been partially destroyed and been rebuilt, but we've not experienced anything this big, and that's why we welcome the external - the international help that came in so quickly to assist us.

KELLY: Yeah. What else do you need?

MINNIS: That challenge right now - we're searching accommodation, be it tent, be it trailers, et cetera, because we cannot keep individuals outside of proper accommodations for a long length of time. In addition, we just want to take into consideration the psychological impact, and you're talking about thousands and thousands of individuals on an entire island that could be psychologically impacted. So one has to deal with that quickly and as aggressively as possible.

KELLY: You've been giving press conferences and addressing the nation throughout these last few days on the crisis. How hard has that been when the news has been so grim?

MINNIS: It's difficult, but that's my job. And it was even more difficult when I, myself, would have experienced a death in my family. Just two days ago, my brother would have died, but in spite of that, I know I had a responsibility to be with the nation.

KELLY: I'm so sorry. Am I hearing you correctly that your brother died two days ago?

MINNIS: Yes, just two days ago.

KELLY: Oh, I'm so sorry.

MINNIS: He was - he had some chronic obstructive airway disorder. But we are a very close-knit family, so the family is dealing with that while I continue to carry on rebuilding the nation. Most importantly is having the support structure around you - not only my team at the office, but I have the cabinet. We all have one common goal, and that's to rebuild the country.

KELLY: We've been speaking with Hubert Minnis. He is prime minister of the Bahamas. Mr. Prime Minister, I'm so sorry for the loss of your brother and for the troubles of your country right now, and we're very grateful for your time.

Thank you.

MINNIS: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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