Fla. Firefighter-EMT returns from Bahamas, says it's 'like a war zone'
Tony Rosado was part of the Florida chapter of the American Volunteer Emergency Response Team deployed to the region after the disaster
Daily Commercial, Leesburg, Fla.
MASCOTTE, Fla. — When Tony Rosado left Mascotte for the Bahamas nearly two weeks ago after Hurricane Dorian slammed portions of the island, he knew things would be bad. But once he was there, he was floored.
"As we flew over the island to land in Abacos, we saw it was really bad. We knew we had our work cut out for us," Rosado said.
Regardless, Rosado, with other members of Florida's chapter of the American Volunteer Emergency Response Team (AVERT), a self-funded grassroots organization that was deployed to the Bahamas by Florida Search and Rescue, hit the ground running.
Rosado said the destruction there was like nothing he's ever seen.
He said locals they came across were both in shock and happy to have help.
"I've been doing this for more than 30 years and I've been to a lot of pretty rough, hard-hit places, but this is the worst disaster I've been to, devastation-wise, destruction-wise," Rosado said. "It's kind of like what people are seeing on TV, but much worse.
"On TV, you don't smell the stench of death in the air," he explained. "You don't feel the uncertainty in the air. It's different. It was like a war zone."
Rosado, a certified EMT, volunteer firefighter, longtime search and rescue volunteer and former mayor of Mascotte, left Florida on Sept. 6 and was prepared to stay in the Bahamas for as many weeks as it took to accomplish AVERT's mission. That mission included assessing the situation, setting up an incident command post for receiving and welcoming other help teams from around the world, setting up triage units, and providing medical aid to the injured anywhere they can get to them and also help with search, rescue and recovery efforts for missing persons.
Rosado said they did that and more, including taking over a medivac unit and clinic to treat and get people airlifted to Nassau. But the turnaround time was much less than they expected.
On Friday, the team returned home.
Rosado said they realized the need for emergency medical aid was under control. He said the lingering need is cleaning up debris and rubble throughout Abaco and in an area known as "The Mudd," in Marsh Harbour, recovering bodies and rebuilding from scratch.
"A lot of these people lost everything. They have no homes to speak of and because many of them have little or no money, you don't know if they are ever going to be able to rebuild and have homes again," Rosado said. "This is just the beginning of what will be a long process of people doing what they need to do to start rebuilding, of completely starting over."
While there, Michael Brewer, AVERT's Washington D.C.-based founder, and Dr. Gwen Denton DeLeon, a trauma surgeon from Miami, posted many team successes on Facebook that Rosado called "unforgettable."
That includes triaging many Haitian immigrants near Marsh Harbour afraid of seeking medical care or evacuating for fear of getting deported and saving a dying 2-month-old baby that belonged to one of those families, who was found dehydrated, with a severe respiratory infection and high fever in the rubble of a severely damaged home. They were also able to find help and a foster home for a 5-year-old girl who lost her parents to Dorian and was left behind and alone when her remaining family, fleeing to the states, could not locate a visa for her in the pile of rubble she once called home.
"The entire emergency medical aspect of it wasn't that bad, but we did a lot in the seven days we were there. It was stressful and busy, sad and a little eerie but we made a big impact," Rosado said.
Rosado also said that although he and his team are gone, many other volunteers remain on the island with long-lasting roles that include distributing food and helping locals rebuild.
He said people should continue donating supplies, including food, water, toiletries and rebuilding necessities like roofing materials and more because people are going to need help for years to come.
Rosado, though still not able to sleep soundly since his return after being awake and busy for so many hours while there and sick from a respiratory infection and rash he caught, said he would do it all over again.
"I am very glad I went and glad we were able to make a difference, but it sure does humble you and makes you appreciate all the small things," Rosado said.
©2019 Daily Commercial, Leesburg, Fla.