Bahamian family returns home after Hurricane Dorian
Bahamas resident Kadisha Wiley slept under her own roof for the first time since Hurricane Dorian. The smell of uncontrollable forest fires drifted down the island, the odor following her home. She has no bed, no safe infrastructure in her home and no way of knowing if her neighbors will ever return. Wiley’s time at home is her first triumph toward regaining a normal life.
“My cousin’s home was one of the safest places to be. Everybody else evacuated,” Wiley explained as she sorted through canned food delivered by relief organizations. “They had my family reported missing for two days because nobody could come in or get out of the house.”
Days before Dorian made landfall, Wiley, a resident of Pelican Point on Grand Bahama Island, took her deaf son, three-year-old nephew and extended family to take shelter in her cousin’s home on top of a hill.
The devastation Dorian brought upon the Bahamian people on Grand Bahama and Abaco Islands was overwhelming. Eradicated buildings, forest fires and missing family members are just the beginning of the horrors locals are still experiencing. Many families remain in shock as they face years of rebuilding their lives.
Even though the eyewall of the storm lasted 36 hours, the entirety of the storm took over 50 hours to pass. Wiley’s greatest fear as the storm passed overhead was the safety of her children.
“We had all our kids with us. I was just trying to think of a plan B if our roof went flying off,” Wiley said. “I had them in my arms as they were crying, and all I could think to say was, ‘Don’t worry, don’t worry.’”
Wiley’s family all survived Dorian, but countless others were not as lucky.
“This was a mega storm, historic, and the response required global help,” Deputy Prime Minister Peter Turnquest said. “We recognize that a number of people have been displaced from their homes, and we are attempting to do everything we can.”
The death toll has increased from 56 to an unknown number as search and rescue volunteers have begun recovering bodies.
On Sept. 28, volunteers from Bahamas Relief Cruise sent out separate teams for search and rescue, medical aid and supply distribution.
Kirsten Stevens, a relief volunteer focusing on supply distribution and the founder of non-profit BahamaStrong, shared stories of locals who were not as fortunate as the Wiley family. Some people watched their family members get swallowed by the hurricane.
Stevens got to know a Bahamian resident they called “Princess.” Princess, still in shock of what had transpired, light-heartedly told Stevens that her family had to leave their uncle behind in his wheelchair when they evacuated their home because he refused to leave. Upon returning home, the house had been destroyed, and their uncle has been missing ever since.
“For me, there was that deep sadness of feeling compassion for other human beings… knowing they went through sheer hell,” Stevens said. “We can’t fix that. But we can do other things to help them feel better. So it was that welling up of emotion where you just feel like you’re going to go into uncontrollable sobbing.”
Many families are unable to cope with the trauma that Hurricane Dorian caused, according to volunteer psychotherapist Betsy Rosander. While Bahamians are attempting to piece their lives back together, they still have no food, water or medical aid in most areas of the islands. Volunteers come through the Bahamas Relief Cruise, USAID and other non-profit organizations to provide survival necessities, but they are not a long-term solution.
After gathering all she could from the supply-heap, Wiley lifted the heavy boxes and trekked home with her family, carrying the food and water they needed to survive another week. Her nephew frolicked toward the house as she admired the joy he held with him. Wiley and her family remain optimistic with a hope for restoration in the future.
By Michaela Payne, Kristen Franz