NASSAU, BAHAMAS – Abaco survivor Chamika Antoine said residents are doing everything they can just to keep living as they mark the first anniversary of Hurricane Dorian.
The 30-year-old is among scores of residents, who still live in a tents in the wake of the deadly Category 5 storm; however, she told Eyewitness News she and her daughter have never gone hungry due to the strong sense of community left in its wake.
When Dorian made landfall at Elbow Cay, Abaco, with maximum sustained winds at 185 mph and gusts over 220 mph, no one anticipated the level of furor that would proceed over the next two days.
Roofs were blown off shingle by shingle, vehicles were overturned and submerged in water and buildings crumbled.
Hundreds of people huddled into ceiling and attic spaces with elderly, small children, and the disabled to wait out the rampage, fearful that they would not make it out alive.
Antoine, 30, recalled the day the storm hit and described the horrific experience as one she will never forget.
“I for one still get terrified when it rains and there’s lightning,” Antoine told Eyewitness News.
“I am really terrified. I am 30-year-old terrified and scared as well when it rains.”
She said she was living in Central Pines with her four-year-old daughter, her mother, her sister when the storm hit.
Antoine said she returned to Abaco from Nassau, where she studies nursing, because she thought, “everything was going to be fine”.
But as soon as the storm started, the roof flew off and the house began to crumble.
She said they decided to wait it out until the storm calmed.
“We chose to stay in the house initially because for sure coming out and being swept away by the ocean or pulled away by the wind was not an option.”
But they knew they had to leave.
“It was [either] stay in the house or die,” Antoine said.
When the eye of the storm passed over the island, she said her family cried, prayed, and ran out of the house, praying they did not get blown away.
“We formed a human rope,” she said,
“Everyone on our street was running out. Every last person.”
Antoine recalled that in the panic and chaos to find shelter, she and her family got split up.
“I don’t know how it happened,” she said.
“My instinct was just my daughter solely. My mom and my sister, everybody went another way.”
She said the first place she and her daughter went was the Central Abaco Primary school.
Antoine said she watched as the school started breaking when they arrived.
“When we got there, people were screaming. They were locked in. The windows were broken. Debris was flying. It just was terrible. Pieces of the roof came off.
“A lot of the cars that were there, poles fell on them, trees fell on them, everyone was running.”
She said after leaving the school, she attempted to go to her brother-in-law’s house, who lived on a hill, but even that home had been destroyed.
“It was like you have nowhere to go,” she said.
Antoine said her sister’s children were at the house when she arrived, so she got them and they all went to look for safety.
Not long after a man saw them and told her to go to the government complex.
She said they had to go through a deep body of water in order to get to the building but they made it and ran inside.
Antoine said since Dorian, things have not gotten much better.
She said she and her family had been renting before the storm, but they were evicted.
The family then came to a church that had tents up.
Antoine said she and others are still living in those tents to this day.
“Us as Abaconians we stuck together,” she said.
“I can’t say I or my daughter went hungry for a day.”
Antoine said what has been mind-blowing in the ordeal is the lack of remorse from the government.
She said if it wasn’t for international NGOs who continue to help them with food, things would be much harder.
And as residents strive for normalcy, Antoine said the global coronavirus pandemic has been like a second hit.
“I think a lot of the survivors like myself are numb right now,” she said.
“I can’t really say how I’m feeling. I don’t feel. I just try to numb. I try not to remember but this pandemic is just adding on fuel to the fire. I’m just praying to God, he saved us, I guess he is going to bring us out of it.
“Losing people, you never get over that. People you love, nothing, no amount of years could change that. Especially not having closure. Especially, the [government] taking it upon themselves to keep the bodies. We will never get over that.”
Antoine lost five family members to the unforgiving monstrous storm.
In May, the remains of 55 victims were buried in the Central Pines Public Cemetery in numbered sealed coffins.
The ceremony proceeded amid staunch protest of approximately 30 people over how the government has managed the process.
The official death count stands at 74, but the missing person numbers continue to be a contentious issue, with conflicting numbers coming from officials, despite repeated attempts for clarification.
Antoine said to date there has been no word on the identification of those individuals buried and their death certificates.
“It’s almost like they never existed.
“But we the people of Abaco will never forget.”