As Erica Roberts clung to a tall mango tree, the winds and sea water churned up by Hurricane Dorian pounding her face, a single thought ran through her head: “I will not die like this.”
Her home, in the small town of High Rock on the eastern side of Grand Bahama, had been swept away. Her 24-year-old daughter Natori survived too, clinging to branches beside her.
Roberts’ face and arms still bore dry, bloody cuts. The pair eventually lost their grip, she said, but they were swept close to a home that still stood. They got inside.
“By the grace of God, we made it,” she said. “We are survivors.”
The 41-year-old had not heard from seven close family members: two sons, a sister, two nephews, cousins, uncles. All were still missing. In a community of about 600, two were confirmed dead. At least 20 had not been heard from since Dorian spent two days destroying almost every building in sight.
“We need aid,” Roberts said. “We have nothing. Everyone is doing this self-sufficiently.”
The hurricane’s devastating 185mph winds brought destruction to Grand Bahama and the Abaco Islands and left at least 43 people dead – a toll that is sure to rise as emergency crews search for survivors.
Parts of the road just outside town had been stripped of tarmac, leaving rubble, exposed pipework and pools of bronzed water where trapped fish still swam. Broken pylons dangled in the street. Palms were bent at 45 degrees, leaves shaved off by the wind.
The storm surge here, about half a mile from the sea, rose to around 20ft. Wind gusts were recorded at 220mph. Many who have lived here for generations said the brutality of the storm was something they had never seen or even heard of before.
For Roberts, who works at a nearby casino – also obliterated – the unprecedented intensity of Dorian, the way it strengthened so quickly to category 5 and stood over the island for more than 24 hours, had a simple explanation.
“I think the climate is playing a big role in all of this,” she said, starring at the muddy tiled floor of a partially destroyed home in which she had taken shelter. “The severity of this … it’s global warming.
“I’ve recycled all my life. I use less plastic. And think about less emissions. I’ve always been committed. But the world is not.”
As residents of High Rock began to assess the damage, the global climate crisis was on the minds of many.
Euridice Kemp, a 40-year-old resident of Freeport, had returned to help salvage what she could from her grandparents’ home. All that was left of the building were the concrete foundations. Belongings – crockery, family photos, clothes, wooden furniture – were strewn on the muddy grass. She pointed to the horizon where six coconut trees once stood, where she played as a child.
“It’s all gone. What we’re doing to Mother Earth and the way this turns around on areas like here … I just can’t. Never … never in my life. My heart is broken. I’m in shock.”
Did she consider herself a victim of the climate crisis?
“We are the biggest victims of climate change. But how can we fight for ourselves against bigger, global countries? How do we move forward?”
At the shoreline, the sea still churned. A lighthouse was partially destroyed, its light blown away, leaving only a red-and-white striped tower.
Pastor Joey Saunders, 61, was counting his blessings. The storm surge crept up to the roof of his house. He spent two days clinging to the branches of a tree, waiting for the water to recede, terrified that sharks might lurk below. The wind lashed him so hard, he began to feel numb.
“I couldn’t feel anything any more,” he said. “I was just so afraid.”
Limited aid has recently arrived in Grand Bahama and the Abaco Islands – with officials battling flooding and poor weather conditions for days.
On Grand Abaco, the Royal Bahamas Defense force assisted around 160 evacuees to leave the island via ferry. The British navy is also assisting aid operations in the region and private vessels have begun to arrive as well.
The Royal Caribbean cruise liner Symphony of the Seas arrived in Grand Bahama on Friday morning bringing with it 10,000 meals the company has provided itself. The food will be distributed by local NGOs and the Bahamian government.
The United Nations has announced the purchase of eight tons in ready to eat meals and is aiming to provide other assistance including satellite communications and generators.
The UN has said since Wednesday that around 70,000 people in the northern archipelagos of the Bahamas are in need of life-saving assistance.