MAN-O-WAR CAY, ABACO – “Everything is gone, but thank God I’m here,” said 69-year-old Jeffrey Albury as he stared at the remnants of the business he built over the past 43 years on Man-O-War Cay.
Albury, who owned a seafood restaurant, said he – like many others on the island – did not have insurance.
The tiny island community was devastated during the passage of Hurricane Dorian, which laid waste to portions of Grand Bahama and the Abacos on September 1-3.
On Man-O-War Cay, what remains is the rubble of homes, businesses, a crippled boating and fishing industry and uncertainty.
“I lost everything I had,” Albury told Eyewitness News Online. “And I didn’t have any insurance, and I don’t think 98 percent of people in Man-O-War had any insurance. They just couldn’t afford it. It was too much. So everything we had is completely gone.”
He continued: “A video doesn’t do justice.
“It’s total destruction. Everything is total destruction. I was here in the hurricane, we survived thankfully.”
Albury said he was leasing a small cay near the island from the government for his fishing business. At the time, he said he did not know how that cay had fared.
A month since the monster storm’s passage, Albury said the trauma continues to set in.
“I’ve tried to adjust myself to it,” he said. “It’s really a disaster. There’s nothing else to say, it’s just a complete disaster.
“I’ve never known and no one in Man-O-War or I don’t think anywhere in Abaco, has ever seen anything like this.
“Everywhere is unbelievable.”
The Category 5 storm made landfall at Elbow Cay with maximum sustained winds at 185 mph and gusts over 220 mph before it torpedoed its way through Great Abaco.
“When we had Hurricane Floyd we experienced winds of 231 mph and the only thing that was lost on the houses was the shingles,” Albury recalled.
“But this was a completely different thing. This was all tornados. If you look around, every roof, 98 percent of the roofs in Man-O-War are half gone.
“So the houses have to be gutted and the roofs repaired.”
The Man-O-War Cay native pleaded with government to move quickly in restoring power to the island.
“If the government would put the electricity there, we could go on a lot quicker,” Albury said.
“People are willing to help. You can’t just keep paying for diesel and stuff like that [to run generators].
“…As far as being able to get ourselves together, I think with the good Lords help and the help of a lot of homeowners, they are prepared to help us in any way that they can do.
“You can look around and see the devastation that we are faced with, but like I said, we’ll survive and move on.”
For 42-year-old Doug Albury, leaving the island is simply not an option.
The father-of-two said he had the opportunity to move with his wife and kids, but could not abandon his home.
“This is my community and I just don’t want to leave,” he said. “If there is ever a time this island needs us, it’s now.
“I just wanted to stay and help to rebuild, to whatever extent we can.”
Doug spent Dorian in a basement with 25 other people after he and his family escaped their home during the eye of the storm.
He said he weathered many storms on the island, but the Category 5 hurricane was “something totally different”.
“Me and my wife, kids, we were in our home and usually she’s just freaking out and I ain’t, but this time we all were worried because of the sheer power and intensity of the storm and what was going on in our house,” he continued.
“We had to get out during the eye and go to my neighbors where they had a basement.
“We were scared the roof was going to come off. Piece of it came off, but thank God the rest of it stayed and we’re all alive”.
Notwithstanding the ordeal, Doug said Man-O-War Cay residents remain optimistic to rebuild even if it’ll take years to restore normalcy.
Before the storm, the island’s economy was driven by its boating and fishing industry and second home ownership.
In the island’s harbor, dozens of boats remain overturned and sunken and the majority of the docks have been destroyed or significantly damaged.
Neville Albury, 69 and father-of-two, said he drove boats for his son’s ferry service, but the business has been severely impaired. Out of the nine-boat fleet, only two vessels are operational.
“In the first year because of no docks, it’s going to be hard, because everybody comes here by boat,” Neville told Eyewitness News Online.
“We have to get a dock going pretty soon. I feel like the government should step in and do a public dock, because right now people come in and look around and there’s nowhere to tie off boats.”
Despite the financial loss, the 69-year-old said he’s just happy to be alive.
“Some mornings I get up and I have to walk out the door, I think it’s a dream and then when I look out, it’s no dream, it’s reality,” Neville said.
When Dorian hit Man-O-War Cay, Neville said he, his wife, brother-in-law and his wife had to lock themselves in one of his bedrooms after the couple’s home got damaged by the storm.
“The four of us went in that bedroom and just didn’t worry about nothing outside of that bedroom,” the lifelong resident continued. “We had to hold the windows in. The windows started to go out and Bernard held one window and I held the other.
“It was about three or four hours of doing that.”
In the days that followed the storm, Neville said sometimes the devastating circumstances get too overwhelming.
“Some mornings I get up and I have to walk out the door, I think it’s a dream and then when I look out, it’s no dream, it’s reality,” Neville said, with a sigh.
Despite the haunting tragedy, Neville maintained it could have been worse. He said he watched as his sister’s home ripped to pieces by the monster storm.
“My wife was sitting there and I told her, Jenny is going to lose her roof.
“She said you mean the shingles. I said no Karen it’s the roof. And one side blew off and when the wind came back, the other side blew off and the house fell down”.
He said among those generational structures to be swept away was that of his father’s home.
With the sadness of his father’s passing still lingering, Neville said he was thankful his father was not at home, as the two-story structure had been laid to rubble.
“It’s been there all my life. It’s gone now”.
But the hope still remains as help comes to the island daily.
“We have a lot of help” Neville said, as he began to choke back tears. “We have a lot of second homeowners.
“They pledged a lot of money and they been here working, same as everybody else.
“…People are coming back. Some of the houses are going to be condemned and rebuilt, but everyone wants to rebuild.”
Life after the storm revolves around daily survival and restoration.
Residents are able to go to the island’s distribution center and get five items per day, per person.
There’s also a communal soup kitchen for residents to get three meals a day.
Neil Albury, owner of The Hibiscus Café, has turned his business into a sanctuary for anyone in need.
“We had freezers full of food that they kept going with generators,” Neil said.
“A lot of people are bringing food items, so we’re just cooking for the volunteers, cooking for the locals, cooking for whoever comes in.
“So we just set it up. We serve meals from these hours and whoever comes in gets fed.”
The chef and lifelong resident of Man-O-War Cay was not on the island when the storm hit.
However, Neil noted that when he returned home, “it was beyond anything I could imagine”.
As he passes flattened buildings on his way to the soup kitchen, Neil lamented the generations of history that have been washed away.
“I pass the house my grandmother was born in, my great grandmother was born in, every day I come to work, and they’re gone,” Neil said.
“A lot of people that weren’t raised in the small town, small islands and cays, they can’t wrap their minds around how deep the roots run.”
Neil added: “This is our version now of Hiroshima, with the destruction. But there were no lives lost, no injuries, so we’re truly blessed.”
Hiroshima is a Japanese city that was leveled by an atomic bomb during World War II.