After escaping Dorian’s wrath, the county, from individuals to organizations, quickly mobilized to help our neighbors to the east.
Not long after it became clear that Hurricane Dorian's ferocity would not be felt in the Palm Beaches, Joel Flores' phone started to ring.
In call after call and text after text, the Greenacres mayor got a singular message from his constituents: What can we do to help the people of the Bahamas?
"Largely, the community reached out to me and asked me what we're going to do," Flores said. "They saw the visuals on the news and wanted to do something to help."
>>AFTER DORIAN: Heartbreak in the Bahamas as humanitarian crisis unfolds
Those visuals were painful: communities reduced to shards of wood and piles of brick; cars piled up like discarded toys; roads washed out.
For Floridians, the destruction is as frightening as it is familiar. It happened to Puerto Rico two years ago, and it could have happened here.
There are no legal ties between Greenacres and the Caribbean archipelago, which suffered historic damage when Dorian made a pair of landfalls there and lingered for a horrifying day-and-a-half.
Indeed, there are no legal ties between Palm Beach County and the Bahamas, which became an independent commonwealth in 1973 after a long history as a British colony.
>>HOW YOU CAN HELP: A list of Palm Beach County relief efforts
Still, something — lots of somethings, in fact — has compelled Palm Beach residents to turn their eyes east as Dorian marches on up the Eastern Seaboard of the United States.
There's proximity. Freeport, the second-most populous city on the islands, is less than 90 miles from West Palm Beach.
Aerial images taken on Tuesday over Great Abaco Island in the Bahamas show the large-scale devastation after Hurricane Dorianhttps://t.co/srHVTVtmAV pic.twitter.com/EZGuqCEQNL
— The New York Times (@nytimes) September 4, 2019 And then there's the fact that some Bahamians have come to call Palm Beach County home. Recent estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau show that about 1,700 residents here hail from the Bahamas. Only Broward and Miami-Dade counties have more Bahamian residents.
Boynton couple, both pilots, sprung into action
Jessica Aperavich-Russell and her husband, Philip Russell, had a clear reason to want to help Bahamas residents — Philip was born and raised in Hope Town in the Abaco Islands, and his extended family still lives there.
Philip’s father lost more than a third of his house in the storm, and a cousin saw his home’s roof destroyed. Other family members’ homes sustained similarly devastating damage.
>>RELATED: Palm Beachers with homes in Bahamas try to assess damage, vow to help islands
“Everyone is really shaken up, but everyone is OK,” said Jessica. “No one in our family was injured. There were not really a lot of injuries, from my understanding, on the island there.”
Jessica and Philip wanted to help — and they had a way to do it: they are both professional pilots and own their own small plane.
So the Boynton Beach piloting couple (she flies for Spirit Airlines; he flies for Frontier) and a group of other pilots began collecting and shipping supplies to the islands Wednesday.
Chainsaws. Tarps. Nails. Staple guns. Medicine. Water.
The priority, they said, is getting building materials to the affected islands so that people can began securing their damaged homes.
The island their family lives on, Elbow Cay, was still inaccessible to airplanes Wednesday, so the group is delivering the supplies to people in need on nearby Treasure Cay.
The group made a half-dozen flights to the Bahamas on Wednesday and planned to continue for the rest of the week.
The group is accepting donated supplies at hangars 214, 310 and 508 at the Lantana airport and also accepting financial donations via a Facebook fundraiser titled “Bahamian Family Fundraiser” to cover fuel costs.
Working-class and poor took the brunt of Dorian
For years, the Bahamas has been a tourist mecca for Floridians and other Americans.
Part of the added tragedy of Dorian is that it devastated working-class and poor Bahamian communities.
Flores said people he spoke to understood that, with Dorian stalling over the Bahamas and then turning north without damaging the Palm Beaches, their gain was the Bahamas' pain.
"A lot of us have experienced the Bahamas on vacation and in different ways," Flores said. "A lot of people felt blessed that it did not come here."
Flores is working with CIDRA Church, the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Palm Beach County, the Hispanic Bar Association of Palm Beach County, El Hispano and Mia 92.1 to direct assistance to the Bahamas.
“Palm Beach County was fortunate to miss Hurricane Dorian,” the group said in a statement released to the press. “Unfortunately, the Bahamas were devastated. Today, our community comes together to help our brothers and sisters in the Bahamas as they begin to rebuild.”
The group is asking area residents for water, canned goods, can openers, mosquito spray, gloves, garbage bags, face masks, tarps, baby items, first aid items, flashlights, batteries, hygiene products and small generators.
Donations can be made from 5 to 8 p.m. on Thursday and Friday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and on Sunday morning at CIDRA Church, which is located at 865 S. Congress Avenue in West Palm Beach.
Sailfish Marina Resort at 98 Lake Drive in Palm Beach Shores has also begun serving as a donation drop-off site.
Residents can learn more through a website set up for the Abacos Relief Project.
People pour in to help the people in the Bahamas
“We are lucky to have been spared,” said Bryan Cheney, director of operations at Sailfish Marina Resort. “Many of us have excess supplies we may have gotten in our preparations. We encourage the community to bring items here so we can make sure they are delivered to the Bahamian people who desperately need them.”
Like Flores and those at Sailfish Marina Resort, Katherine Waldron has again swung into action in the aftermath of Dorian.
Waldron, chairwoman of the Port of Palm Beach, is helping to revive Palm Beach County Cares, a group of community organizations that sent relief items to Puerto Rico after it was devastated by Hurricane Maria in 2017.
The port is one of the symbols of the ties between the Bahamas and the Palm Beaches.
Cruise service was established between the locations in 2010.
Port Executive Director Manuel Almira said the service was “a perfect match” because of the close proximity — only 70 nautical miles away.
“It has been beneficial both for our local government and the people in the Bahamas,” Almira said.
Two- and three-day cruises, expected to resume Saturday, have offered brief, comparatively inexpensive getaways that gave U.S. residents a glimpse of their tropical eastern neighbor.
Now, that neighbor is embarking on a long, hard road to hurricane recovery.
Waldron said local residents are eager to help those in the Bahamas.
“People know what it’s like, and they know it could have been them,” she said.
Staff writer Chris Persaud contributed to this story.