Over the past six weeks, Tom and I have received so many kind calls, emails, texts, Facebook and Whatsapp messages and more, inquiring about our little house by the ferry and how it fared during Hurricane Dorian. Until now, however, I just didn’t feel ready to talk about it.
Early on Sunday, September 1, as Dorian barreled northwest along the coast of Abaco toward Green Turtle Cay, we began hearing how severely Hope Town and Marsh Harbour had been hit. At that point, Tom and I made peace with the fact that Fish Hooks would likely be destroyed.
By mid-day, we lost communication with folks on Green Turtle Cay. The last message we received was that the roof of the primary school – designated as the island’s hurricane shelter – was beginning to fail, with many local residents inside.
And then, silence. We heard nothing for the rest of Sunday.
Or on Monday.
The wait and worry were sickening. Day after day, we scoured the news and social media, hoping for word about our family members and friends on Green Turtle Cay and in other parts of Abaco.
We spent hours communicating with others who were also waiting for news, relaying messages, answering questions from media, helping reporters get to the Bahamas, and trying to get word out about the extent of the devastation in other parts of Abaco.
Finally, on Wednesday, September 4, someone was able to get a brief satellite call out from Green Turtle Cay. Incredibly, all 550 members of the community were safe and accounted for!
The island itself was another matter. For more than 24 hours, Green Turtle Cay had been ravaged by the most powerful hurricane ever to strike the Bahamas. Sustained winds of 185 mph had reduced houses and businesses to rubble.
A number of homes – not to mention one of the Green Turtle Cay ferries — had simply vanished. Of the structures that remained, many were severely damaged. Trees, utility poles and wires and even boats blocked the roads, making them impassable.
The entire New Plymouth settlement had been submerged and battered by the storm surge. We knew then that Fish Hooks was likely gone.
Wednesday afternoon, I was at an appointment when my cousin Ghandi Kane sent me a Whatsapp message, with this photo attached:
When I enlarged the image, I could see Fish Hooks! It was hard to tell anything about its condition from the pixelated, grainy enlargement, but our little house was definitely still standing!
In the month and a half since we got the news, Tom and I have experienced so many emotions. Our hearts have broken time and again as we’ve discovered the toll Dorian has taken on our beloved Bahamas.
Three members of my extended family in Marsh Harbour were killed. And though the official death toll stands at around sixty, hundreds of people are still missing. Many are likely dead. The truth is that we’ll likely never know just how many lives have been lost.
Of the storm’s survivors, tens of thousands have lost everything — homes, businesses, jobs, boats, vehicles, furniture, clothing, books, photographs and memories. They’ve endured trauma that will take years to heal. Many are experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder.
We’ve felt incredibly helpless, being so far away and not able to help in any hands-on way with the recovery effort. And, we’re experiencing something that I imagine is akin to survivor’s guilt — a bewilderment as to how and why our little, old wooden house survived when so many others – bigger, stronger, more modern homes on which we’d have bet good money – did not.
At the same time, our spirits have been buoyed by the outpouring of love and support being bestowed on northern Bahamians. World Central Kitchen serves meals to Abaconians and Grand Bahamians every day, and Water Missions is making fresh water. Samaritan’s Purse has established field hospitals and is distributing relief items in both Abaco and Grand Bahama.
Hundreds of private planes and boats have ferried in everything from food and water to clothing and cleaning supplies to volunteer labourers. Thanks in large part to the efforts of the Green Turtle Cay Foundation, two barges loaded with tools and building materials have arrived on the cay so far.
We’ve been awed and inspired by the resilience of our Green Turtle Cay friends, who’ve been working non-stop to organize and rebuild their community.
They’ve cleaned and dried out churches, turning them into makeshift distribution centers for groceries, clothing and other relief supplies. They’ve established a temporary school for the children that remain on the cay.
In the building where the First Caribbean Bank was once located, Green Turtle residents have set up a tool bank, where donated construction equipment and materials are available for anyone to borrow.
Now that we know our family and friends are safe, secure and taking the first steps toward rebuilding their homes and their lives, it finally feels like the right time to tell you what we know so far about Fish Hooks.
On Thursday, September 5, once the weather had subsided enough for safe travel, my cousin Ghandi’s husband, John Kane, and a few of his friends filled his boat Geronimo with generators, tarps, food and water and headed for Green Turtle Cay.
For several days, they served hot meals to the folks in town (I hear John’s homemade pasta sauce was a hit.) And they helped evacuate a number of the island’s residents to Nassau upon their return.
During their time on the cay, John and his kind friends also checked on Fish Hooks.
From the aerial photos, we knew our roof was badly damaged. Thankfully, though most of our shingles are gone, it seems that the majority of the plywood beneath them remained, no doubt preventing catastrophic destruction inside the house. To protect against further water damage, John and his friends installed a tarp over the roof.
We believe that all but one of our shutters and windows held. Unfortunately, the one window that was smashed was right over our bed, which is no doubt soaked, moldy and covered with glass.
Between the roof damage and smashed window, a lot of water got into the house, and we understand that most of our belongings – as well as the floors – are wet and moldy.
There’s also been damage to at least one wall, and we won’t know until the house is inspected whether it’s cosmetic or structural in nature. And of course, the entire house was sandblasted, and will need a new paint job.
Sadly, much of the work we’ve done over the past few years – including the brand new kitchen cabinets Tom spent his vacation building this past May (I hadn’t even had a chance to write about them yet!) — will have been ruined or undone, so we’ve definitely suffered a setback.
On the other hand, we take comfort in the fact that some of our recent efforts may actually have saved the house.
Fish Hooks’ original foundation was really just a pile of quarried stones – probably all that Pa Herman could find when he hastily hammered the house together following the 1932 hurricane. The only thing securing the structure to its foundation was the weight of the house itself.
When we moved Fish Hooks in 2014, we had a new concrete foundation built, and we bolted the house to it. Since our property is higher at the back than the front, shifting the house backward raised it another four feet or so, which likely protected it from the worst of Dorian’s storm surge.
Thankfully, we had hurricane insurance. (Many Bahamians didn’t, because it’s insanely expensive.) Unfortunately, we can’t do much in terms of repairs until our insurance adjuster has completed his inspection – which we understand will likely happen within the next week or so. As soon as that’s done, Tom and I will head down to Green Turtle Cay to help with the recovery and begin repairs on Fish Hooks.
I’m also hoping to make a bit of time to record stories of some of the folks who survived the storm. It’s so important that we memorialize their experiences for future generations.
And at some point — as my friend Mandy Roberts reminded me in this note sent via her son, Dillon — I guess there’s a new chapter to be written for Those Who Stayed:
For now, though, Tom and I want to thank everyone who has reached out and inquired about our little house by the ferry. Your concern and kind words have touched and comforted us over the past weeks.
We’re especially grateful to John and his friends for tarping Fish Hooks and doing their best to dry and air it out, to our neighbours Eileen and Curtis Hodgkins for everything they’ve done for us since the storm, to the kind soul (whoever you are!) who boarded up our broken bedroom window, and to everyone who has sent photos and updates about our little house.
We’re relieved and thankful that Fish Hooks was spared the worst of Dorian’s destruction, and we’re cautiously optimistic about the house’s future.
In closing, Tom and I want to extend our deepest condolences to the family of Mrs. Shirley Roberts, of Green Turtle Cay’s Hardware and Marine. Mrs. Shirley had been ill prior to Hurricane Dorian and she passed away at home shortly after the storm. She was a community treasure who possessed a wealth of island history, and she will be missed by many. We send our love and sympathies to her children, grandchildren and extended family.
Green Turtle Cay was just one of many Bahamian islands affected by Hurricane Dorian. Tens of thousands of my fellow Bahamians are in desperate need of support, and will be for quite some time. To learn how you can help, click HERE.
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