Hurricane

‘We’ll rebound. We just need time’: Freeport residents determined to move forward

Hurricane Dorian damaged this Bahamian family’s house, now they wait for help

Ronnie Saunders, 42, a machine operator at Freeport Harbor, surveys the wreckage Friday, Sept. 6, 2019, that was done by Hurricane Dorian to his Royal Manners house. Saunders lives with his fiancee and 18-year-old daughter.
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Ronnie Saunders, 42, a machine operator at Freeport Harbor, surveys the wreckage Friday, Sept. 6, 2019, that was done by Hurricane Dorian to his Royal Manners house. Saunders lives with his fiancee and 18-year-old daughter.

After eating some canned tuna and grits for breakfast Friday morning, Ronnie Saunders left his severely damaged home in Royal Manners, in Freeport, Bahamas, and resolved to find his friends, once and for all.

They live down the road from him, but he hadn’t heard from them since Hurricane Dorian battered Grand Bahama earlier in the week and he was worried.

He wandered down the streets, passed the piles and piles of shoes and all sorts of objects, from furniture and appliances, that his neighbors left to dry outside under the scorching sun. Then he pushed open his friends’ crooked front gate and got rattled when he spotted a dead animal sprawled on the floor.

“Wow,” Saunders, who doesn’t get surprised easily, thought.

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A boat can be seen sitting in a wooded in Freeport, Bahamas on Friday, September 6, 2019. Thousands of Bahamians are heading to Freeport Harbor trying to escape Hurricane Dorian’s devastation. MATIAS J. OCNER mocner@miamiherald.com

He quickly trekked forward, refusing to decipher what type of pet it was exactly, and decided to check inside his friends’ car. But as soon as he opened the door, a heavy stream of dirty water splashed him. His heart sank a bit, imagining the worst, but a little after, a neighbor saw him and told him they were OK, just gone.

So the 42-year-old returned home, without much else to do, other than sit and wait.

That’s the reality for many Freeport residents nearly a week after the deadly Cat 5 Dorian churned life as they knew it into mulch. They spend their days sitting on their front porches with haunted looks, occasionally visiting neighbors to recount how each survived Monday, which for some was the worst day they had ever lived.

They listen to the choppers pass overhead, wondering if they were rescuing victims or unloading bodies, and watching the cars that weren’t flooded or overturned by the storm drive by, navigating around the fallen electrical wires and the crater-like potholes.

Saunders has a job as a machine operator at Freeport Harbour, but hadn’t been called back yet. He finished cleaning his house, mostly, but hadn’t found the supplies to repair the fallen roof on one of the rooms. He pushed the trash out into his front yard, but didn’t know how to get rid of it.

“I know other people were hit worse. I know I’m kind of fortunate. But I still need to fix this,” he said. “I guess I’m trying to take it step by step.”

A few miles away from Saunders’ house, people were hanging out near Rand Memorial Hospital, which is bursting at the seams with patients and in dire need of supplies. As a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter touched down Friday afternoon to pick up patients in critical condition, everyone stopped and stared.

A woman driving by parked her car to shoot video of the aircraft landing to give to her nephew, who could use a smile these days, she said.

Nearby, a pastor came to a standstill, and sent a prayer for the sick and injured.

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Donalee Smith, 61, a seamstress, walks through the rubble of her sister’s house in Freeport, Bahamas on Friday, September 6, 2019. Thousands of Bahamians are heading to Freeport Harbor trying to escape Hurricane Dorian’s devastation. MATIAS J. OCNER mocner@miamiherald.com

Across the street, outside Christ of Kind Anglican Church, 27-year-old Dameako Hepburn briefly stopped pushing the wheelbarrow full of the debris he was clearing from the ruined church and glanced up, wiping his sweat away. He said his house at Eight Mile Rock wasn’t wrecked so he decided to help others.

“People here don’t see American helicopters a lot,” said 61-year-old Donalee Smith, smiling as she noticed how the chopper disrupted everyone’s day. “It’s a small town.”

Smith herself spent part of Friday surveying for the first time her sister’s home, or what’s left of it after Dorian. When she first got off her jeep in front of the house, she blinked a few times, taking in all of the rubble — memories of all of the 20 plus Christmas nights she celebrated there flashing by.

Her sister is still in Canada on vacation, where she has been since before the storm hit, and Smith said that’s enough for her to be thankful to God. Material possessions can always be replaced, she assured herself.

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A woman looks out from the balcony of her home in Freeport, Bahamas on Friday, September 6, 2019. Thousands of Bahamians are heading to Freeport Harbor trying to escape Hurricane Dorian’s devastation. MATIAS J. OCNER mocner@miamiherald.com

She spent a few minutes walking around the demolished property, picking up objects, such as a purple scarf that made her struggle to remember the last time she saw her sister wearing it. She finally gave up and turned around, rejecting any negative thoughts.

“Us Bahamians, we’re resilient people. We don’t get depressed. We’ll rebound,” she said. “We just need time.”

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