Shocked by devastation
When my phone rang two Fridays ago and I saw it was one of my editors calling, my first thought was, “I’m in trouble for some odd reason”.
But that wasn’t the case. DAILY NATION Editor Bryan Walker was informing me that I was selected to cover the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian in The Bahamas. I would be there for two days.
Though excited, my knees felt weak and my heart began beating quicker than normal, as I bravely accepted what turned out to be a massive challenge. I was extremely nervous because it was my first overseas assignment and I’m only 20.
When I told my parents they were concerned but understood that such assignments are part of my job. They were mostly worried that I was going alone but confident that I could do what was required of me.
As I sat on-board my American Airlines flight from Barbados to Miami, and then onto Nassau late Saturday night, water settled in my eyes when I recalled the pictures and videos circulating on social media of the devastation in Grand Bahama and Abaco. I wondered what I would come face to face with.
I arrived in Nassau in the wee hours of Sunday morning, checked into my hotel and slept for about three hours. Around 8 a.m. that morning I made my way back to the airport to get a flight to either Grand Bahama or Abaco. The flights were free on a first come, first serve basis as part of the evacuation process. Only a passport or identification card was required, but the customer service agent made it abundantly clear to me, “This is a one way ticket . . . I cannot give you a return nor can I guarantee that you will get back to Nassau for a couple of days. You can be out there for as long as two weeks.” I refused to let that discourage me.
The destruction and damage Hurricane Dorian did to the island of Grand Bahama could be seen from the air as I descended. The once green forestation I had heard about on the Paradise island was all brown. The buildings looked like pieces from Lego toys and match boxes. That was not because of the aerial view, but as a result of the 30 inches of rainfall and the more than 200-mile-per-hour winds which ravaged the communities there.
The Grand Bahama International Airport was no more. The various terminals were ripped to shreds. The only structure standing was West Terminal which was also severely damaged. Commercial and private jets were slashed in half, with rubble everywhere.
We were unable to leave the airport on foot and had to be transported to down town Freeport by coaches. When I finally stepped outside, the scent of dead animals and bodies engulfed me, it lingered in my nostrils for hours.
I actually saw two bodies, one was a male in a hoodie and the other was just lying in a puddle. I couldn’t determine if it was a male or female.
I also saw a casket which looked as if it had been uprooted. While driving through the communities of Heritage, Chipping Hill, West Hill and High Rock, the horror wrought by Hurricane Dorian was so overwhelming that one could not help but feel doom and gloom – all hope is gone as there is hardly any life left. Home after home was flattened; cars were covered in mud and massive fishing boats lay smashed and broken on the main streets.
As I journeyed around, suffering and sorrow were everywhere. Some women and children were crying as they stood or sat outside of the remnants of their homes in obvious despair, possibly over losing family, friends and most of their possessions. There were long lines for gas and food, where they were available, while other residents could be seen walking slowly with a beleaguered look on their faces.
Originally, I was supposed to be in Grand Bahama for a couple hours but my worst fear was confirmed at 2:30 on Sunday afternoon. I was trapped on the island with no flight back to Nassau.
I stood with my hands on my head, absolutely distraught. It was the most heart-breaking experience I have endured. With no friends or family in this foreign land, I was at my wits’ end wondering where I could go. Just then, God sent me two guardian angels – Aunty Pat (Patricia Hamilton) and Aunty Stacy (Anastasia Morris). These two amazing ladies treated me like a son. They took me in, fed me and transported me all over the island to meet people and hear their stories. These wonderful ladies even assisted me in my work by holding my cell phone, which I used as a recorder, so I could do my reports.
As my first day wound down, the reality of where I was sunk in further. I was in darkness as there was no electricity. There was little water so I was forced to remain in the same clothes for two consecutive days. I did manage to freshen up a bit by using a washcloth with some water in a bucket. And I managed to file my stories from the back of a garage at a friend of Aunty Pat’s who had a generator. I did this via Whatsapp to Mr Walker.
Day two was mostly taken up with trying to get out of Grand Bahama. From just after 8 that morning until minutes past 4 that evening, I stood in a queue in the sun along with several other desperate, hungry and frustrated Bahamians anxious to get to Nassau. Though I had snacks and bottled water to sustain me, I gave them to a woman and her four young children. She spotted my bottled water and the anguish on her face and that of her children as she enquired where I got it from made me part with it. The five of them immediately partook of my meagre offering. They were that desperate.
I got back to my hotel around 6:30 that evening in time to file my stories. The following morning I left for Miami and home.
We have so much to be grateful for here in Barbados. For those who say they would like to experience a hurricane, believe me, you really don’t want to endure the pain of losing everything except for the clothes you’re in, and have no idea of where your next meal is going to come from, where you’re going to sleep or how your house will be repaired. You do not want to worry about not having enough cash or about feeling unsafe.
This is what I saw. For sure, I would not want to experience any hurricane in Barbados, let alone a Category 5 one like Dorian. (AGB)