Do you believe that miracles can happen? I do. I know of 150 miracles. One hundred and fifty miracles of my island family that survived Hurricane Dorian. One hundred and fifty lives that were spared to tell the story of how a monster storm of epic proportions shredded our beautiful island. This tiny island, in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. 7 miles long by one mile wide. A tiny rock with a community of people that are beyond beautiful, brave and resilient survived. They are our hope to rebuild, replenish and rebound in a way that will show the planet how we can move forward.
It was September 2nd, the sun had set. It was 7pm and I found myself wandering around a Target store in Highland Park, Illinois. I wasn’t supposed to be there, but yet here I was. I walked the aisles in search of school supplies for my son. Wolfgang was going to start school the next day. Not where he was supposed to be going to school in Marsh Harbour Abaco Bahamas, but to his previous school St Joes Catholic in Libertyville Il.
Unfortunately, Wolfgang would have to pivot, because just 24 hours earlier, his home school, St Frances, was completely destroyed by 200 mile an hour winds, ferocious tornadoes and flooding to the ceilings. St. Frances De Sales Catholic School, A place that once housed the laughter of bright, shining children’s faces was now lay in a pile of unrecognizable rubble.
As I meandered the aisles, I was overcome by crippling grief as I see shelves stocked with thousands of items… overflowing amounts of clothing, food items, toiletries, household goods, comforting blankets and pillows, light fixtures, batteries, flashlights, and water. All these items ready for purchase, sitting on neatly stocked shelves, when our community is simultaneously suffering from instantaneous homelessness. They are hungry without the promise of food or water. Our town completely ravaged by a monster called Hurricane Dorian.
I felt my throat constrict and the taste of my own vomit entering my mouth. I am sick to my stomach knowing many people we have grown to love were simultaneously cowering under broken roofs with shattered glass at their feet, dripping wet in rain soaked, wind torn clothing. They were clutching their loved ones, praying for God to rescue them from Nature’s Wrath. Many of them running from house to house in 200 mile an hour wind, seeking safety from a Monster that was breathing down on them.
The storm truly was an angry monster angry ripping though concrete walls as if they were made of cardboard, tossing cars and boats around like they were toys. Every second, in a 36 hour storm, is an imminent threat to their lives. Their screams and shrieks of terror overpowered by the howling winds. Trees that were hundreds of years old, snapping like twigs and debris flying through the air like shrapnel threatening to wound them.
I began to weep in the Target. Uncontrollably weeping, because I may not be living through that storm with our community, because my husband made a wise decision to evacuate our family just a few days before the storm. But, I did live through it. I lived through it in a different way… in a Target… knowing exactly what Mother Nature’s wrath was doing to our friends and community. This store stocked with all the things that could provide comfort and relief to many who are suffering. But there was absolutely nothing I could do about it. It’s all so unfair.
My family was one of the lucky ones that didn’t have to ride out the storm, but having 24 hours of no communication with those that stayed, was pure and utter anguish. We were traumatized too. We sat helpless as the news reported that storm wasn’t moving. It came on fast and furious and then just sat and hovered over the islands. It’s unrelenting winds and flooding waters destroying our beloved island home.
Would there be survivors? Not likely, according to the news. How could anyone survive a storm that they don’t even have a scale to measure those types of winds, and storm surge? They said it made land fall at a possible Cat 6/7 or 8 if that was even possible. The epic storm, the storm of the century, the angriest storm on record.
My eyes were swollen and my knees weak, I purchased a pack of pencils, a notebook and a uniform for Wolfi to wear to school the next day. My cart was empty because I knew nothing that I could purchase at this moment that would be reprieve, when we didn’t even know who and what would survive.
It felt so foreign to be an island girl, listening to muzak playing in the background, surrounded by consumers going about their business and ample goods aplenty in fluorescent lit big box store. I could not make sense of it in my brain. I felt like an alien on a different planet, far removed from my home. I was a walking wound, raw inside, but no one could see my torment.
Day three after the storm, we finally received a Satellite phone communication form our island. Miraculously, 150 residents of our island that stayed to ride out the storm survived and were accounted for! Our relief was overwhelming. Knowing our friends were safe, was the best feeling in the world. They were our family we love each one of them, our prayers were answered. Especially my two best friends!
However, the island did not survive. The destruction is so complete and far reaching that few structures remained standing. The storm created 20 foot ocean surges and swallowed up many houses on the island, including our own. Structures that still remained, were torn up like a rag doll, the foliage on the island ripped off the trees leaving craggy, barren branches. The once beautiful, tropical island paradise now looked post apocalyptic.
Tears streamed down our faces, struggling with the odd dichotomy that we were relieved to hear that our friends lives were spared, but yet our island is no more. It is no longer inhabitable. When we talked briefly to those on the island through broken satellite transmission, they sounded like zombies, bone tired from fighting for their lives for 36 hours straight only to emerge in a place that is completely unrecognizable. The trauma was thick. Everyone suffering, without direction. Everyone desperate to get out of a still dangerous and volatile situation but they have nowhere to go. Trapped.
The phone began to ring off the hook, there were many friends and organizations hearing about the devastation and wondering how they could help? My husband immediately sprang into action, creating a list of supplies that the islanders need for relief. He immediately found a place in Fort Lauderdale that can receive relief goods to be shipped to the islands in containers when the storm’s winds subsided. He knew the immediate relief needs of hurricane survivors, because we sent supplies to our friends just a few years ago when Irma hit the Virgin Islands.
o Medicine and Medical supplies
o Tents, cots, bedding materials and mosquito nettings
o Electrical Generators
o *Bottled Water
o *Food for personal consumption
o *Personal hygiene products
o maybe a stuffed animal to comfort a child
Then, we began hearing from my husbands co-workers and Wolfi’s schoolmates on the island of Abaco. Abaco was considered the “mainland” it’s main city, Marsh Harbour was once a bustling epicenter of the island chain. They somehow had cell service and they began pleading for help. The situation in Marsh Harbour was extremely dangerous. Flooding waters rushing through the streets, violence and looting outbreaks, and the rancid smell of dead bodies start to fill the air. They too, survived with their children and were desperate for a way out. They too, felt scared lonely and helpless on an island ravaged by a deadly hurricane. They were absolutely trapped. And they needed help getting out.
My husband luckily works for a company that has a large network of wealthy people who have access to private planes, boats and helicopters. He tapped into those resources and helped to orchestrate many evacuations of families. Often, I would hear him on spotty phone connections giving directions to families to make their way to a random farm fields where a possible helicopter could land so they can be rescued. Or directing people to start walking through the night to go meet a boat coming in from Nassau that could bring them to safety.
It was amazing to see him in action coordinating evacuations for his co workers from all over the islands From Treasure Cay to Sandy Point, from Marsh harbor and Great Guana Cay. Helping them find a away to Nassau or even United States.
Jim tirelessly worked the phones, trying to find and account for every life of the people who worked for his company. He successfully tracked down all 209 employees. Miraculously, they too had survived. Some of them lost family members, their children, wives and parents. But they were all miraculously alive!
When they received his calls you could hear each recipient say, “I have lost everything, Jim, but I am grateful to be alive. Thank the Lord in Heaven I am alive.”
You could hear their desperation in their voices, the utter despair. But you also could hear that they were relieved and thankful to hear his voice… His voice, at the other end of a phone line, offering the comfort of knowing somebody cared. Jim would ask, “Are you okay? Do you have place to go? Can I help you?” Three questions that feel like a life raft when you are drowning in despair.
The evacuations continued out of Abaco en masse. 70,000 Bahamians (1/3 of the nation’s population) were now homeless, displaced, hungry, traumatized and spread like confetti. Their possessions gone, no hope for work, their banks, churches, grocery stores and homes all demolished. People who survived the trauma and assault on their lives now have no power, water, food, communication or infrastucture.
The US Coast Guard had arrived first on the scene ambulating the sick, injured and dying from the island. People crowded into medical clinics, seeking help, the government buildings now acting as a shelter housing thousands of families who lost everything they own. Crowded and overflowing with no resources to meet their basic human needs.
Imagine what it would feel like to live in a tiny town all your life, seeing the same faces, doing your same routine, everything always familiar. Then, you find that your whole town, everything you have ever known is destroyed. Then you have to immediately leave your home with only the shirt on your back, no possessions, no items of comfort not even your documentation. And you are dropped off into downtown Manhattan without a penny to your name. You would be lucky if you had a friend in NY or possibly a family member. What if you didn’t? What if you had no where to go, but this strange busy town? That’s what it is like for the Abaconian people who got evacuated to Nassau or even better if you made it to the US before the government made it near to impossible to come into our country.
Here is another miracle….it’s called generosity. I have witnessed the countless grassroot organizations and everyday people doing collections of relief items and delivering them to people in need. I have seen friends hand deliver clothing and school supplies to those that have NOTHING. I have watched as volunteers have taken their precious time and delivered food, clothing, water and supplies to the islands.
These are private citizens, these are non-governmental organizations, rallying around people in their greatest time of need. They are the ones providing relief not the Bahamian government or even the US government.
People like Chef Jose Andres and the WORLD CENTRAL KITCHEN and the Mastroiannai Family foundation that were responsible for providing food, clothing and shelter immediately after the storm. People, like my friend Charlotte who flew to Nassau on her own dime to provide 18 suitcases full of clothing for families still living in the clothing they rode out the storm in, are helping. This is where we see the miracle of hope. The outpouring of kindness and generosity is truly God’s miracle in action. Real superheroes don’t always wear capes. These people are true heroes and they inspire me to be a better human being.
Why did this happen? Why is this beautiful paradise ravaged and destroyed? These beautiful islands greeted visitors from all over the world to come enjoy the beauty, the serenity, the simple life where you could escape all your worries. Here you could listen to music, watch the glistening sun play off the aquamarine waters, here you could watch the sunset under a coconut tree and meet someone from another place, but be immediately bonded in minutes, because you share in someplace so magical.
Mother Nature is angry. She is having to unleash her wrath so that maybe we could wake up. We need to take into account what we are doing to her. Our beautiful planet teaming with God’s creations is being destroyed without regard. Climate Change is a real and dangerous thing.
I know, I am a victim of climate change. My family lost our home, all our belongings, our sense of safety, our dream of living a simple life, our livelihood, our community we worked so hard to build. But we are just ONE family. We are one of 70,000 who lost everything to a monster storm. A storm formed out of climate change. The unusually warm Bahamian waters was ripe for a Hurricane of epic proportions, one that would destroy homes and beauty and take lives of beautiful souls here in the Abacos. We need to make changes in how we live. Our oceans are warming, our rainforests are burning, our ice caps are melting and we go about our days, driving vehicles, consuming one time use plastics without regard, and deforesting our planet. At what point are we going to pay attention to do something?
What if we could build a stronger more environmentally strong Guana? What if Great Guana Cay became a green community that is environmentally conscious with a hope and a promise to be the living example for how human beings can take small steps to make big changes for our planet?
Help us rebuild Great Guana Cay. Help us build solar fields to provide sustainable power to the homes of Guana, help us grow organic foods and farming techniques to help feed the population. Help us get back our electric golf carts for modes of transportation. Help us build environmentally friendly homes. Help us build a school to teach children the importance of marine biology, ecosystems, sustainable living! Where will our imagination take us? How can we come back smarter, environmentally friendly and rebuild Guana Cay? You can be a part of it. You can help make Guana Cay something the world has yet to see.
You can make a change on an island that may just inspire the world.
You can help by making a charitable contribution to The Great Guana Foundation through our benefit concert on October 23, 2019. Click on this link below to purchase tickets to our event. If you are not in the area and cannot attend, please click the ticket link and find the Donation area to make a difference in my island community. Help us bring hope back to Guana Cay. We are #guanastong
“I can be changed by what happens to me. But I refuse to be reduced by it.”
― Maya Angelou