Connecticut couple’s Bahamian vacation turns into relief assistance after Dorian destruction


BAHAMAS (WTNH) — A Connecticut couple was supposed to be on vacation in the Bahamas last week. But when Hurricane Dorian hit, they found that their tropical vacation was now a relief effort mission.

Jeff McKee of Southbury and his girlfriend, Ashley Bolmer, were supposed to be on vacation in early September visiting a friend, Scott Aranha, who is a native Bahamian. They had planned the trip to visit Aranha and his wife months in advance.

When the hurricane hit, Aranha told McKee that they would be doing relief efforts and could use the vacationers’ help. McKee said he and Bolmer “didn’t mind helping at all.”

When McKee and Bolmer arrived in Nassau September 5th, they immediately joined a group of volunteers lending the effort in Abaco: McKee assisted with supply delivery, rescue, and evacuation, and Bolmer with comforting and processing evacuees.

The Marine Unit of the relief efforts from Nassau, Bahamas brings supplies to residents on the island of Abaco after cat. 5 Hurricane Dorian devastated the island. Photo: Jeff McGee

McKee said the team he was with made the first evacuation runs from Abaco to Harbour Island Friday, September 6th.

McKee told News 8 that it was heartwarming to watch the Bahamian people jump into action: “They were driven by their hearts. They literally dropped everything in their lives to help out their neighbors on Abaco and Freeport.”

Supplies being loaded into boats for delivery to Abaco Island – Photo: Jeff McGee

“There was no actual labeled organization. It was all native Bahamians coming together as a large group…The ones spearheading the relief effort from the water were individual charter boat captains and local mariners.

The head organizers of the marine operations were Scott Aranha, his wife Bianca, and Will Tomlinson. Also with the new Providence Christian Center who initiated the whole collection process of relief goods and funds on Nassau.”

– Jeff McKee
Supplies being ferried to residents on Abaco Island – Photo: Jeff McGee

McKee said the effort was approved and expedited through the National Emergency Management Agency in Nassau.

The boats going to the island brought food and supplies; leaving the island, the boats brought evacuees – those wishing to relocate – to a medical evaluation check point and then on to Nassau, Bahamas, for rehousing.

Privately-owned boats are being used to evacuate residents of Abaco after the island was devastated by Hurricane Dorian. Photo: Jeff McGee

“With 24 hours of us being there they had close to 30 volunteer boats, numerous aircraft resources, supplies, food, water, funding, equipment, medical staff, etc. it was amazing.

– Jeff McKee

McKee told News 8 that the evacuees picked up by the marine division came with nothing but the clothes on their backs.

Residents of Abaco Island are relocated after Hurricane Dorian devastated the island – Photo: Jeff McGee
Residents of Abaco Island are relocated after Hurricane Dorian devastated the island – Photo: Jeff McGee

“There were literally hundreds of people waiting dockside to be evacuated. Most of them had not eaten food in 4-6 days. Once on our boats they literally collapsed to the deck from exhaustion and relief of being rescued.”

– Jeff McKee
Supplies and residents ready for evacuation on Abaco Island after Hurricane Dorian – Photo: Jeff McGee

McKee estimates that the single, private vessel he was on was able to evacuate 550 people in only three days.

Some evacuees told McKee that they want to return to Abaco one day, but as of now, they can’t imagine when that will be because everything was gone: destroyed or swept away.

McKee and Bolmer returned to Connecticut September 9th, but the relief effort continues in the Bahamas.

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