Hurricane Dorian destroyed most property on the Abaco Islands in the Bahamas, forcing residents to leave everything behind
Kathlyn Russell collapsed on the concrete, tears streaming, as she embraced her daughter she feared she would never see again.
“My daughter. My daughter,” she said, her voice, for a few seconds, louder than the drone of propellers that muffles most other sounds at the rescue centre on Nassau in the Bahamas.
Russell, a housekeeper from Great Abaco Island, had stayed inside her home when Hurricane Dorian pounded the northern islands of the Bahamas over the weekend. But after hours inside, her downstairs flooded, the roof flew off and she was left with no other option but to run.
She left her home, clutching her six year-old grandson Chrishon with both arms close to her chest.
“As I was running the wind was picking me up and licking me down,” she told the Guardian. Somehow she made it across the street to a neighbour’s home, still standing. “I lifted my hands up and I said: Lord, help me.”
But Dorian continued to pummel the islands for days, as the slow-moving category 5 hurricane with 185 mph winds destroyed most property on the Abaco Islands, and Russell was forced to flee again. She reached a shelter, and slept for three nights in a small room with 12 other people.
“I thought no one was coming to rescue us,” said Chrishon, his bright yellow t-shirt still daubed with three large dirt stains.
But on Wednesday afternoon the two were evacuated by jet plane, and reunited with family in Nassau.
The reality of her situation was only just dawning on the 46 year-old grandmother: “I have nothing left. Absolutely nothing. Only the clothes that I have on my body right now,” she said.
The official death toll in the Bahamas was revised on Wednesday night to 20, but it is expected to continue to rise as a crisis on archipelago’s northern most islands continues to unfold.
“I still don’t think we’ve seen all the body bags yet,” said one senior relief official who did not want to be named in order to speak frankly on the situation.
The United Nations estimates around 70,000 people in the Bahamas are in need of some form of disaster relief in the wake of Dorian. Around 20 relief organizations have mobilized on the Bahamas, including the US Coast Guard and the Royal Marines who have run emergency evacuations for critically ill people since Tuesday.
But with the airports in the northern islands either still closed or completely destroyed, delivering aid and continuing evacuations has been slow progress.
A steady stream of evacuees from the Abaco Islands streamed into the rescue center at a private airstrip in Nassau throughout Wednesday.
67-year-old Gary Smith, a lay minister from the St Andrew Baptist church on the Abaco Islands clutched a small bag with everything he was able to salvage from his destroyed home – a passport and a few other documents.
“I’m feeling grateful to almighty god,” he said, adding that almost every church in his community had been destroyed by Dorian. In the Bahamas, 90% of the population professes a religion, the vast majority aligned with the protestant faith.
Smith said he evacuated with his wife as the eye of Dorian passed over his home, its roof already blown away.
“It happened so fast, some water was beating in, and we had to get sandbags – by the time I tried to get back into the room I couldn’t even get in.”
“As long as I’ve been on this earth, I’ve never seen anything like that. You can’t imagine.”
He found a way to a medical centre on the island where, he said, he witnessed an elderly woman die.
“She died of a heart attack,” he said. “Some people just couldn’t take it.”