When Hurricane Dorian devastated The Bahamas on September 1, it tore off roofs, destroyed homes, flooded airports, lifted cars, left at least 70,000 people homeless, and took at least 43 lives, Reuters reported. After the Category 5 storm left the islands and started traveling north, nearly 1,500 people evacuated The Bahamas for Florida, a Customs and Border Patrol spokesperson told MTV News in a statement. But some Bahamians were turned away before their boat even docked in the U.S.
On September 8, more than a week after the hurricane made landfall on the island, as many as 130 passengers were told they couldn’t evacuate to safety if they didn’t have a visa with them, according to CNN. Typically, residents of The Bahamas have to show their passport and have their police record check before entering the U.S., according to Brian Entin, a WSVN investigative reporter based in Miami.
"All passengers who don’t have U.S. visas, please proceed to disembark," the announcer said over the loudspeaker of the Baleària ferry, according to a video posted on Twitter by Entin.
The passengers — many of whom are now back on the storm-ravaged island — were left confused and scared.
"They’re saying that they just got a call from CBP, and CBP told them that everyone that doesn’t have a U.S. visa and who was traveling on police record has to come off," Renard Oliver, a passenger who was trying to evacuate, told WSVN. "At the last minute like this, it’s kind of disappointing. It’s hurting because [I’m] watching my daughters cry."
In a statement provided to MTV News, a CBP spokesperson said the agency "was notified of a vessel preparing to embark an unknown number of passengers in Freeport and requested that the operator of the vessel coordinate with U.S. and Bahamian government officials in Nassau [the capital of The Bahamas] before departing The Bahamas." In short, CBP says they didn’t directly tell the ferry to stop, but there might have been some sort of miscommunication between the ferry, the U.S. government, and the Bahamian government that resulted in the directive.
CBP spokesperson Michael Silva told Newsweek that the Baleària ferry was at fault: According to him, they didn’t coordinate evacuation efforts properly.
"It breaks my heart because it's like when you raise somebody's hopes and then you pop the balloon... That, in my opinion, is what Baleària did,” Silva said. “It raised the expectations of these poor people who have been through an unimaginable situation with the hurricane...They raised their expectations only to then leave them terribly disappointed."
Despite the incident, nothing has changed for how folks can travel from The Bahamas to the U.S., Carl Smith, a spokesperson for The Bahamas' National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) told CNN.
"We are aware of an incident reported on a large passenger vessel headed to the United States," Smith said, adding that NEMA has asked the Ministry of Tourism and Ministry of Foreign Affairs to investigate the ferry incident. "I wish to reiterate there are no new arrangements in place for movement to foreign countries, to the United States and Canada in particular."
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