By Barrington M. Salmon
(TriceEdneyWire.com) – Chris Laville remembers looking out of the window of his apartment, thinking it might not turn out too bad.
“It was early in the morning. It had rained and there was a light breeze,” Laville recalled in an interview with the Trice Edney News Wire. “I woke saying we could ride this out not knowing what a Category 5 storm was.”
Over the next day and a half, Laville, his wife and nine co-workers learned much more about Dorian than he ever wants to again. Elbow Key, where they lived, bore the brunt of Hurricane Dorian, the strongest storm ever to hit the Caribbean archipelago of 700 islands.
Laville, the 40-year-old head chef of the Sea Spray Resort, now says if he ever again hears a hurricane’s coming, he’ll be on the first flight out. Dorian made landfall and then sat for almost two days, lashing the islands with 185 mile an hour winds and gusts of up to 220 miles an hour.
He said he’s never been more afraid in his life and has been left deeply traumatized.
“… I met everybody running as the storm took off the roof,” he said. “I grabbed some things as the roof flew off my room. I looked and saw the veranda was gone, the stairs were gone and the railing took off. The only thing I could do was jump.”
Laville said he caught his wife Indira who jumped out of the building and waited for the rest of the group to do the same. As they sought shelter, they were buffeted by fierce winds and driving rain and sand.
Elsewhere on Abaco and Grand Bahama islands, Dorian – which traveled at a glacial pace of one mile per hour – tore through buildings, shredded objects in its path, tossed boats and other marine vessels onto land, obliterated homes and businesses and killed residents.
Laville said 40 units on the resort are gone and he lost a co-worker and a friend who was a ferry boat pilot. Elsewhere, Bahamians are trying to comprehend obliterated communities, washed out roads and neighborhoods sitting under water.
Dr. Paul Hunt, a pediatrician and allergy specialist, who has lived in the Bahamas since 1990, said he’s heartbroken. He’s fortunate, he said, because he and his family were in Nassau when the storm hit and his home is not damaged. His thoughts, he said, are on those who’re coping with loss and struggling to come to terms with the shocking devastation.
“I’m just numb. The gut-wrenching thing is my patients. I have a patient who I looked after since he was two and I just heard that a storm surge swept away him and two of his children,” said Dr. Hunt, a husband and father of three. “He’s lost and presumed dead. Save for the surge, this wouldn’t have been a big thing. The surge doesn’t happen over time, it can occur in two or three minutes.”
Dr. Hunt said on Friday morning, he spoke to a niece who works at CNN who told him the government just sent 200 body bags to Abaco.
Official reports indicate that 43 people have been confirmed dead but that number is expected to rise astronomically as rescue teams finally reach islands and communities that have been cut off by flood waters. At least 70,000 are homeless, according to reports.
The hurricane dropped 30 inches of rain and triggered a storm surge as high as 23 feet, leaving more than 13,000 homes damaged or destroyed, the Red Cross and government officials said. A video, which was shared widely, taken by a member of Parliament inside his home, shows dark water lapping against a second-story window 15-20 feet off the ground.
Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis said in a press conference that although the storm targeted only a small section of the Bahamas, it still inflicted “generational devastation.”
According CNN, Joy Jibrilu, director-general of the Bahamas Tourism and Aviation ministry, estimates that “… hundreds, up to thousands, of people are still missing.” Bahamas’ Health Minister Dr. Duane Sands told Guardian Radio 96.9 FM, that body bags, additional morticians and refrigerated coolers to store bodies are being transported to Abaco and other affected areas. Four morticians in Abaco are embalming remains because officials have run out of coolers, he added.
“The public needs to prepare for unimaginable information about the death toll and the human suffering,” Sands said. “Make no bones about it, the numbers will be far higher. It is going to be significantly higher than that. And it’s just a matter of retrieving those bodies, making sure we understand how they died. It seems like we are splitting hairs, but not everyone who died, died in the storm.”
Back at Elbow Key, Chris Laville said the group took refuge in a laundry room after breaking a window to get in. While gaining entrance, he gashed his hand but ignored it as everyone tumbled inside. It wasn’t long before the floor above them began to fall into the storeroom so they all set off to find another safe space.
“I ran to the boss’s house and saw a boat parked in the room where he was,” Laville said.
His boss joined the group which went to another house.
“We bent down low and reached the house, by the grace of God,” said Laville. “Amazingly, the door opened with a gentle kick. As soon as we got in, the wind slammed the door behind us.”
Laville said this particular house was on stilts.
“Actually the building moved four or five inches,” he said, referring to the wind’s power. “When the eye passed over, I went to look for food and snacks because we ran out of food and water. We slept with our clothes and shoes on because we were afraid that something else might happen while we slept.”
Although he didn’t think of the wound to his hand, or his having stepped on a nail, Laville said his wife was concerned enough to encourage him to go to the Hopetown Fire Station. Surprisingly he said, he received 12 stitches and was put on an emergency flight to Nassau to receive additional medical care.
“It was a minor cut, but they opened it up and stitched the tendons,” he said. “My wife couldn’t come with me. She just said, “Honey, just go.’ I’m still worried about her because she’s there with people but still by herself. She was at the ferry station ‘til 4:45 p.m. and didn’t get on. I’m not feeling good, it’s not a good feeling at all.”
After Dorian’s arrival, Kevin Seymour said, he spent the worst 48 hours of his life.
“My second daughter Keayshawn lives in Abaco. We lost track of her for two days. They got flooded out and had to find refuge somewhere else,” said, Seymour, director of health, safety and the environment for the Grand Bahama Power Company. “Not knowing – that was painful. It was the worst two days of my life. I last spoke to her on Sunday and told her she needed to go to Marsh Harbor which is higher ground. Good thing she didn’t go.”
As he and his family rode out the storm with no electricity but with adequate food and water, Seymour said the hurricane sounded like airplane engines revving on the tarmac. While the sound didn’t bother him, he said it really bothered his wife.
Corinne Laville, Chris’ aunt, said she’s most concerned about the trauma people have experienced and how that will affect them going forward. This hurricane offers yet another opportunity for the government and Bahamians to self-correct, she said.
“I swear, if we don’t change our thinking … this is an opportunity to really do this right,” said Laville. “In Freeport people are taking care of one another. But in Abaco, Haitians have replaced White Abaconians as cheap labor while they stay on their yachts. We have to look at Haitian-Bahamian situation.”
Laville said a few thousand Haitians live in two shanty towns, one called the Mudd, where the structures aren’t built to code and likely were not able to withstand the powerful hurricane.
“We need to set standards on the islands,” she said. “And everything is too Nassau-centricity. That has to stop.”
She said humor has been one way for Bahamians to cope. For example, people said Dorian couldn’t leave the Bahamas because it was too dark, referring to the constant electrical blackouts caused by load-sharing.
“And a Bajan newscaster said on air that the Bahamas is a vacation destination and Dorian came for vacation,” Laville said with a hearty chuckle.
Dr. Hunt said the Bahamas will rebuild.
“Our beloved island of Grand Bahama took a pounding and there is a lot of hurting,” he wrote on Facebook. “My heart goes out to the families of those with loved ones who have lost their lives, several of who were well known to me. The destruction in Abaco was catastrophic and gut wrenching…I will be returning to Freeport shortly to do my part in trying to alleviate some of the suffering and help in the rebuilding of our Island. We in Grand Bahama have faced and conquered many obstacles that have been placed in our path. We will not be undone by Hurricane Dorian and we all will emerge from this collective experience stronger, wiser and more united.”