They went in thinking they were well prepared for Hurricane Dorian - but it turned into a week of hell for the reporting team from The Tribune, trapped inside Abaco first through the passage of the deadly storm itself and then trying to find a way out of an island cut off from the outside world. Reporter RASHAD ROLLE relives his experience inside an island affected by death, destruction, looting and people trying to find a way to get through the storm. With photographs and video by TERREL W CAREY.
It took little more than an hour for vast swathes of Abaco to be destroyed.
That's how long the most ferocious part of Hurricane Dorian blasted the island, tearing down buildings, sending storm surges across the island and killing many of the inhabitants.
The Tribune's team - myself and photographer Terrel W Carey Sr - had arrived on Friday ahead of the storm, and we thought we were prepared for the worst. We weren't. No one could be.
We arrived with essential supplies, batteries and back-ups, and with accommodation booked in the Abaco Beach Resort - whose general manager expressed complete confidence that it was utterly prepared. He said there was a detailed plan for how to cope with the storm - guests would stay in their rooms, and if the storm reached category three, they would be invited to stay in the Below Deck area, a spacious area with sturdy steel shutters. This storm reached category five, ripping those shutters off and leaving guests watching in fear as windows bulged inwards ready to burst.
We arrived to find a resort full of experts, insurance assessors, foreign media and high-ranking members of the community, staying at what is regarded as the top hotel in Abaco.
At first, it was quiet - with the approaching storm missing its estimated arrival time. I stood outside my room, watching the sky and thinking it was going to amount to nothing.
But things changed as it began to pick up intensity. At about 9am, you could hear the sounds of the winds swirling. Peeking out through the canvas covering the balcony outside our room, we could see trees beginning to twist and bend, and the waves beginning to pick up.
The sky grew dark. There was no blue. There was no sun. My photographer partner, Terrel, called it unreal.
We were in room 205, counting the time as the storm built up. I spent the time on my phone and my laptop, keeping up to date with the progress of the storm and messaging people back home.
An hour later, we began to see signs that our setting was truly getting out of control.
Rain and leaves began to blast through the crevices of the hotel room and the bathroom doors.
The wind was louder than ever. It sounded like the moment a vacuum is turned on, swirling all around you. At this point, the winds were more than 200mph in gusts, we later learned.
The canvas outside the room was flapping uncontrollably - by this point when we looked out all you could see was gray, with occasional glimpses of trees bending under the force of the storm.
Then came more water. We were on the second of four floors in the building and suddenly water was seeping in under the door. We grabbed towels and tried to block the flow, but it just kept coming. At the same time, water started dripping from the light fixtures throughout the room. Water even started dripping down the wall.
The fire alarm went off - and that's when we got scared, worrying if something was on fire. We feared it was a message to evacuate the building - but in the middle of a category five hurricane, we were unsure whether we should leave the room or not.
Even so, at this point, with electricity still on, we began to fear we could get electrocuted. I pulled out the plugs from the television and the refrigerator. A fellow guest later told us that he was watching Darold Miller on the television during the storm and sparks began to fly from it and he had to put out the fire.
Another hour later, we lost all communication through BTC. That was the last our colleagues would hear from us directly in days.
In the middle of it all, there was a sudden loud bang - peeping through the hole in the door, we could see the metal railing outside broken and lying on the walkway. These were solid metal poles snapped by the sheer power of the wind. We began to imagine the worst if we had to leave the room, seeing what the storm had done to metal and picturing what it could do to us.
By then, the water inside the room was continuing to get higher and higher. It seemed like every time you turned water was spewing from some new spot.
I was sitting on my bed wondering what we were going to do when I saw sunlight.
I thought this was the moment to make an escape so I opened the door and it was catastrophic what I saw.
To the right of me, the roof by the stairway had fallen in on top of the downed railing, so there was wooden debris stacked up upon one another mostly blocking the entrance up the stairs and out to that part of the complex.
To the left of me were the people coming out of their rooms, dressed in short pants and the most casual clothing, fumbling with their belongings in tow.
At that point, it wasn't clear to me that any of them knew where they were going to go.
I remember grabbing our belongings and going around the back of the resort complex when I saw a fellow news colleague who told me he was just coming to get us as they had made their escape just a little earlier.
It was frantic. People were panicking. I saw Edison Key, former Central and South Abaco MP, slowly walking to the designated safety spot at the Below Decks area. A reporter from an ABC affiliate was talking to her bosses on a satellite phone, telling them what she saw was horrible and the worst thing she had ever experienced.
This was the eye of the storm - and everyone knew that we only had a limited time before the hurricane would resume just as strong.
Even so, from the destruction that we saw during the calm of the eye, it was clear that Abaco had suffered devastating amounts of damage. The island was drastically changed, with flooding everywhere and buildings ripped apart by the storm. Even the resort itself - said to be capable of surviving the worst - had parts of its roof, doors and windows ripped off.
We went out to the entrance area and, while stunned by the flooding, we heard people screaming "help" in the distance. That was the first really traumatising moment for me.
We could see in the distance a group - perhaps a family - clinging on a branch of a tree and screaming for assistance.
Someone with us started waving and shouting at them, "How many?". A distant voice shouted back "Five". That prompted a mad dash to get kayaks said to be at the back of the resort but we were unable to get them. We heard later that someone else had come to rescue them - but we never verified this and it was a sign of the impact of the storm.
Then came the refugees - people from the neighbouring Regattas complex seeking shelter after their own structure had collapsed. They came wading through chest high water to get to safety. There was a family including a woman carrying a three-month-old baby through debris. There was a woman walking with an elderly blind man. There was also a masseuse carrying her pet dog.
Along with them, we were urged by the manager to seek shelter in the Below Deck area - but the masseuse expressed concern that it was on the ground floor and facing the direction the storm would be coming back from. We argued frantically over what to do - and decided to head back upstairs. We grabbed our belongings and went to a room of a Reuters photographer on the second floor and sought shelter.
Later, we learned that the shutters at Below Deck had been ripped off by the storm, and guests described the window warping inwards like a bow and how they feared it would shatter at any moment.
Terrel decided to wait the storm out in our old room, while I joined media colleagues Theodore Elliot and Meeko Bert from Eyewitness New and the masseuse. The eye was passing - so we set about securing the room. We tied a rope around the canvas to secure it and piled furniture up against the glass doors.
The masseuse told us her experience at Regattas, which made us a lot more worried. She did not believe the room would hold up and I was genuinely afraid at this point.
Again, some water began to come into the room and I was sitting there wondering what was going to happen, hearing the wind howl and hearing loud clashing sounds outside. The sounds were so loud we wondered if they were the yachts from the shore crashing inland. I sat there in fear that at any moment the canvas would pop off as it had done in other rooms and the glass door would break, the room would be compromised and we would have to make a run for it.
I sat on the floor zoning out. People were talking around me but I was unable to take it in. I spent some of that time on the floor wondering if I would be able to function properly in an escape. As I was playing it in my mind, I was worried that if the room was compromised, I wouldn't be able to react quickly enough to do what was needed to survive.
There came a moment, though - about two hours in to this second blast - when we collectively felt that if we had come through this so far, then we were going to make it.
And make it we did. The storm died down slightly and we ventured out when Terrel knocked on the door.
When we came out, the scene was even more apocalyptic than it had been before. All the cars sustained significant damage, their windows blown open with the debris that had flown in. Even more trees had toppled. Even more of the roof had come off.
Eventually, we came out and tried to make contact with the outside world. After that, we returned to our rooms and slept as best we could with the sound of the ongoing storm raging on around us. My God, I thought, this was a long storm. But we had survived.
Aftermath: Day 1
Morning came with a mixture of relief and dread at what we might find.
We walked around the compound to see the impact. Our rental car was destroyed. The windows were broken into and the engine was seized up. Each of us separated to look around.
Everywhere I could see was destruction. It was like what I had seen during the eye times five.
Terrel went walking to the government complex - about 45 minutes away - to see if there was a route through. He came back for me later, having injured his foot on a nail but having found a path to the complex.
He had seen the aftermath of people looting. Stores were empty - and he had seen a man loading a Yamaha engine for a boat onto a dolly. When challenged on why he was taking it, he said "Because I found it.”
Just behind him, there was a group of men carrying a bright yellow motorbike from the Yamaha store. The steel door of a clothing store was beaten down and everything inside had been taken. It was the start of a great deal of looting to come in the following days.
We decided to relocate to the government complex. It turned out to be a bad decision.
The walk felt like we were in a post-apocalyptic movie. Everything was unrecognisable. Debris was strewn across the road.
The road was obstructed, with cars, yachts, glass, downed power lines. We had to go through houses and businesses to find our way through.
It was a treacherous journey - walking on debris, keeping your eyes down so you didn't step on a nail, walking through people's houses and climbing over appliances. It was raining. The wind was heavy.
I wrapped my bag in a big plastic bag and taped it heavily and that made navigating even more difficult. I waded through water with my suitcase in one hand and a bag of noodles in the other.
At one point, we saw a man coming the other way with a raincoat on and carrying a shotgun. He didn't even acknowledge us as he walked by.
We passed Commonwealth Bank with its interior gone - the only thing left standing being its safe. Family Guardian's building was destroyed, and the Conch Inn - originally recommended to us as a place to say - was reduced to rubble on the ground. There was a dog sitting on BTC's roof.
One of the most striking scenes was a yacht inland with a truck completely inside it as if it was parked there.
Eventually, I saw a car driving in the distance. As we got closer, we saw it was a law enforcement vehicle and defence force officers were getting supplies and putting them in the back of a truck. We asked them to give us a ride.
They took us the rest of the way to the government complex - where we walked into a scene of chaos.
It was filled with people, distressed and seeking refuge. It included a lot of Haitians and other residents from The Mudd area which was completely wiped out by the storm.
We went straight to the command centre - where we found Foreign Affairs Minister Darren Henfield. As soon as we walked in, we heard a police officer telling the story of a man he found dead on a tree, who he couldn't get down because rigor mortis had already set in and his hands were gripped tight to the tree.
We quickly realised that coming here had been a mistake. There was nowhere to rest. It was filled with people.
Around us, we heard the stories of survivors. There was a firefighter who said he had been trying to get through flood waters with his two daughters, but they got pulled away from him, unable to swim. A woman walked by screaming because her 21-year-old daughter had died in The Mudd. An official who had gone into The Mudd ahead of the storm to urge people to evacuate - Pastor Wilson Isnord later told us that everyone there had a story of losing someone.
As we walked through the halls, you could hear people recounting stories. You could hear them talking about how their roof fell off, about how this one got swept away, about how that one got left behind.
Kevin Altidor, a professional basketball player in Europe, was also in the complex and he said his nephew, Brenden Dion Altidor, spent the hurricane on a tree, where he had been placed by his stepfather who went back to save more - and did not return. He also had a few friends who died in a church nearby, and he knew several people who waited out the monster storm in bushes. When he went to the Pigeon Peas to look for his clothes, he found a stack of about nine high-powered guns and alerted the police.
One man - whose pregnant wife lost her mother in the storm - said the water in the Pigeon Peas area had gone from three feet to 30 feet in less than five minutes.
Exhausted, we tried to find somewhere in the complex to sleep, and were given a spot in the cashier’s cage in the Road Traffic Department without electricity where we spent a restless, uncomfortable night. By that time, we were delirious, and got through the night the best we could.
Aftermath, day 2
The next day, we started to venture out.
We headed to an Aliv store in the hope of getting communication out. We rode along with police, who took diesel to the store to try to refuel the generator. We rode in the bucket of a tractor being driven by police across debris to the store.
Even as we were driving, we saw people coming with trolleys full of items; sodas, Gatorades, liquor, hot patties, everything you can imagine. We came to an area where there were cars on the roads and there were lots of people. It was the Save-A-Lot warehouse and people had bored a hole through the wall and were looting.
There were people walking through water with trolleys, there was a man on a door he had turned into a canoe with a stick in his hand pushing himself on. They were all going to the store. The whole place was chaotic. Looting had become a way of life.
After we came away from the Aliv store, we went to see The Mudd. As we walked toward the Mudd, we saw a family reunite. It was a very emotional moment. Theirs was a surprise reunion. One half of the family had stayed at the hotel with us and had been going back and forth looking for the other half. They had been going back and forth in a truck when they saw them and it was a heartrending reunion. One woman was pouring with tears as she hugged her missing relatives. She was talking and crying so much about how she was convinced she would never see them again.
We continued to The Mudd. We had been told it and the Pigeon Peas were gone, but we hadn't seen it for ourselves until now. It was just rubble. You could see a couple of dead dogs right away. We saw people trying to make their way through the rubble, they told us to come and see a dead body. That was the first dead body we saw. It was a woman, covered with wood and debris, swelling up from the water. It remained there.
We left to go to a church where we were told there were dead bodies. It was an unfinished Seventh-Day Adventist Church. Pastor Isnord told us later that eight people had gone into that building, evacuated during the storm, and the roof collapsed on them. We saw three bodies, but it was unclear if the other five people made it out. I saw one body of a man, whose leg was bent up to his nose, while his blood was almost purple. It was beyond horrible.
A second body of a man was turned on its belly and you could see the stones of the roof on top of him. I didn't see the third myself - there's only so much you can take seeing dead bodies up close, especially in that kind of undignified environment.
We returned to the complex, where we remained for the rest of the day.
Aftermath, day three
We had enough. We were still in the government complex, but living conditions were deteriorating. People had to pee in cups or use bushes as toilets.
One official warned to wash feet well because people were urinating or excreting on the floor. Top government officials on the island did the best they could to maintain some order.
At last, however, there were signs of people coming to our aid. Helicopters were flying over every five minutes. Supplies and food were brought in, with an aid group from California also aiming to bring in doctors and resources to help people.
As we came out of the area we had been sleeping in, there was a woman having a medical event - thought to be a diabetes-related problem. We later found out that she had died. At least four people died at the government complex.
We left the complex and headed to the Marsh Harbour Clinic. It was full of people. It had turned into both a shelter and a clinic. People were sleeping inside - there were mattresses in the clinic. It seemed even more packed than the government complex. It had a terrible smell.
Again, we heard more stories from people about their traumatic experiences. One man with an injury to his leg broke down in tears as he told us what he had gone through. Another man, Captain Brian Adderley, sustained an injury to his foot while swimming from Boat Harbour Marina on Bay Street to Dove Plaza on Don Mckay Blvd, where he helped Dr George Charite escape rising water.
A nurse said she had initially stayed at the Abaco Central Primary School shelter but the roof came off. She began praying to God to save her. She said she told God "Save me, I will work as hard as I can to save everyone else."
She had already been working three days straight when we met her, and she cried as we interviewed her. She told us how she had vomited the night before because she wasn't getting enough food.
There were not many medics at the clinic, but the ones who were worked extraordinarily hard. Some of them cried when a helicopter came to relocate them to New Providence because they didn't want to be separated.
An American man who had stayed at the hotel with us - a storm chaser - made his way to the government complex and he began asking us how he could get out of the country. He pulled out his passport and asked who he could show it to, emphasizing that he was an American citizen. When the Coast Guard arrived, he tried to get a ride with them but was told only the sick were the priority.
We also met Lashan McIntosh, the mother of Lachino McIntosh, the eight-year-old boy whose death The Tribune reported on Wednesday. She was hysterical - not just following her son's death, but because she had brought her daughter to the clinic for treatment and she said she was desperate not to lose another child.
By this time, a path had been cleared back to Abaco Beach Resort, where we returned to get additional belongings, then came back to the clinic. We wanted to get off the island - and started asking about ways to find a way to leave.
We heard that the Sandy Point airport was open. It was an hour's drive and we were able to go with media colleagues. We decided to take the chance.
The further south we went, the less damage we saw. At some point, trees were intact, and we encountered areas that weren't hit as badly by the storm.
We got to the airport and begged Southern Air pilots for a ride. They wanted to help us but because it was a paid charter they couldn't.
The pilots were getting concerned by the fact that the people they brought to the island were taking so long to come back. At one point they told us yes, we could get on the plane. We were so excited. But they didn't immediately leave and eventually the headlights of the government staff who chartered the plane were returning, and they told us sorry, we couldn't go.
That was a new low. We were distressed. We were disappointed. We did not know if we were going to stay or what we would do. We were an hour away from Marsh Harbour. It was night. Mosquitos were out in full force. Our misery and anger reached a peak.
But media colleagues there alongside us for the journey came to our aid again and we were able to spend a night at a nearby motel.
Aftermath, day four
Our final day was a day of frustration. We returned to the Sandy Point airport only to find that flights were no longer available because pilots had reportedly been told by NEMA they had to stop their charters.
Planes were coming in bringing relief supplies - as well as taking people, but at this stage people were coming in despite NEMA's orders.
We had expected a plane to come in but it didn't arrive. It was a day of despair and anger as we sat and waited, trying to find a way out.
More and more people kept arriving at the airport, trying to find a way off the island.
Finally, we had a chance to get on board a plane. We held in our excitement until the plane was in the air. But at last we took off. At least we were safe.
I was exhausted. I could barely focus. And at last I slept. Behind us, Abaco was destroyed. But unlike many, we were alive. We had a home to go to. So many others are not so fortunate.
Well_mudda_take_sic 3 years, 6 months ago
There's very little in this article/story that most of us didn't already know. We need up to date news on what's being done by our government/NEMA for the survivors currently living under horrific and life threatening conditions. Stories about personal experiences can wait.
242in404 3 years, 6 months ago
I appreciate the first hand account.
tell_it_like_it_is 3 years, 6 months ago
Wow, what a harrowing story.
The sad thing is... this is probably one of the better experiences of many of the people there.
My heart breaks for Abaco and Grand Bahama. I know many of us have family there too. It's just sad all around.
geostorm 3 years, 6 months ago
Thank you for sharing your experience! It is a good way for us to truly understand what is happening on the ground. It may help us to be a little more compassionate and understanding of the struggles that our fellow Bahamians and refugees living among us are facing.
yeahyasee 3 years, 6 months ago
Agreed having family evacuated out of Abaco yesterday man the recount of what happened brought tears down. This is truly devastating.
Well_mudda_take_sic 3 years, 6 months ago
Wasn't Marvin Dames saying over and over again to press reporters that he had only heard about minor isolated instances of looting in Marsh Harbour and that the situation was totally under control by Bahamas defense force personnel and policemen on the ground in Marsh Harbour?
CiteYourSource 3 years, 6 months ago
Thank you. Well done. I'm tired 125 miles away just thinking about it... Does anyone know what happened to Grad Cay, Rosie's, etc...?
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