Hurricane left her dad stranded for two days, house destroyed
A week before Asiyah Robinson was expected to start her final year of a double major degree in Biochemistry and Chemistry at UVic, she heard the news that Hurricane Dorian had changed course. It looked like the tropical storm was going to hit where her brother lived in Georgia, the area her brother studied in Florida, and the homes of her parents and grandparents in the Bahamas.
By Sep. 1, it was clear that this was no ordinary hurricane. The Washington Post described the hurricane as “the longest siege of violent, destructive weather ever observed.”
Hurricanes typically move at a rate of 16 to 20 kilometres per hour. But Dorian moved slowly, at just one km per hour, and at times actually did not move at all. For Grand Bahama Island, this meant that residents endured 36 hours of the storm while Hurricane Dorian was essentially parked above them.
By Sep. 2, Robinson heard that her home in Freeport, on Grand Bahama Island, had been destroyed.
“In three days, my whole world was shattered,” Robinson said.
Her mom stayed with her grandparents, one of whom is blind and the other is nearly deaf, while her dad stayed home with her dog. Robinson tried to remain in contact with her family, but the cell service was spotty.
Robinson woke up from a nap to messages from her mom and dad, saying that eight feet of water had flooded their house and her dad was scrambling to find their important documents and keep their dog safe. After that, they didn’t hear from him for five hours.
Finally, one message came through. It read “the house is destroyed, Hajji (the family’s dog) is dead, the roof is breached, and I’m in the rafters.” After that message, she didn’t hear from her dad for seven more hours.
For Robinson, back in Victoria, those hours were spent trying to organize and share messages of her dad’s whereabouts on social media with friends in the Bahamas. She phoned the coast guard and all rescue services available as neither of her brothers nor her mom had access to a phone.
Her dad was stranded on the roof of their their home — in hurricane winds with no clothes, water, or food — for two days before a rescue was finally made.
The first attempted rescue was made by the Bahamian Defense Force. They couldn’t get to Robinson’s dad because a major bridge had broken, blocking the way and making safely navigating the area impossible.
The second attempt was by the U.S. Coast Guard on Sep. 2. After telling Robinson they were on their way, the coast guard suddenly announced that all rescues had been suspended for the evening as high tides had made the water too treacherous to navigate safely.
Robinson heard from a friend in the Bahamas that said her family was trapped, with 20 feet of water in their house. At this point, Robinson assumed she lost her father to the storm since her home was only 15 feet tall.
Robinson said that on Sep. 2, she went to bed assuming her dad had passed away. Thankfully, Sep. 3 brought a turning point for her dad’s rescue.
She hadn’t left her room for three days since she had to be in constant contact with her family, and anyone reaching out to her in the Bahamas about the rescue effort. Despite knowing her dad could be dead, she didn’t stop calling anyone involved in rescue efforts and talking to her brothers over Skype. The three siblings took shifts being awake over those three days to ensure no message about their dad’s whereabouts went unread.
Finally, an old high school friend connected Robinson with some locals. At this point, the water level was decreasing so that rescue efforts were becoming more conceivable.
“It came down to random citizens on jet skis,” Robinson said. “I got their number … they told us they turned their corner towards our house … so we just kept the chat open, waiting for some sort of news”.
Minutes went by and Robinson prepared for the worst, alternating between praying, crying, and checking her messages. She thought that maybe her dad had passed away and the locals on jet skis just didn’t want to bear the bad news.
Two hours went by before Robinson found out that her dad had been rescued and was safely transported to a nearby shelter.
This brought a new batch of concerns, however, as a former high school teacher texted Robinson and told her that her mom — who was supposedly at the shelter with her dad — was not there. After spending three days worrying about her dad, Robinson then spent the next 24 hours worrying about her mom before finding out that they had just relocated to another shelter.
Since then, she’s kept in contact with her family as best as she can. She’s reached out to some friends to check on them, but some of her messages have been left unread.
Her mom and dad were able to go back to their home and found it unlivable.
“I’ve lived through Category Five Hurricanes before, but no one expected this,” Robinson said. “We’ve [the Bahamas] got some of the strongest building codes in the world because we know they are going to hit.”
Robinson’s house was built to withstand 225 km/h winds, but Dorian brought winds of 290 km/h.
“It’s just an empty husk of what was there,” she said.
Her home has been reduced to walls and windows. The inside is ravaged — only the bare bones of a building remain. The Robinson family had just finished building this family home last year after seven years of waiting and renovations — it’s been a life-long goal for her family. Now, they’re back starting from scratch.
Needless to say, Robinson did not go to her UVic classes for the first week. She returned to classes on Sep. 9 and has found support in community groups.
In the Bahamas, aid efforts have been hindered by the sheer devastation the storm created. Right after the storm, there was no real way to get supplies to the islands affected. Robinson’s older brother is helping the aid effort in Freeport.
At the time of writing, the official death toll is 50, although Robinson said this is highly inaccurate and believes the number to be in the thousands. The official death toll only includes the bodies that can be identified.
“There’s a lot of people who still don’t know where their families are,” Robinson said. “As literal hours go by, there’s more and more missing people and more and more death tolls.”
There’s also a need to get people to safety, especially on Abaco, where the damage was even worse. They hope to get to Nassau, the capital of the Bahamas, or Turks and Caicos.
Although the United States has sent help, there is still uncertainty over people trying to get to Florida from the Bahamas. Florida is just 80 km away from the Bahamas — less than the distance from Victoria to Vancouver. Recently, a boat from the Bahamas with 119 passengers was turned away because the passengers did not have the appropriate travel documents.
Once Robinson is able to find a suitable way to send supplies from Victoria to the Bahamas, she plans to enlist the help of her friends and the local community. Right now, however, some supplies are merely sitting on the docks because the National Emergency Management Association (NEMA) is unsure of how to distribute it equitably.
In the meantime, Robinson wants to focus her energy on building awareness and reaching out to the Caribean community.
After graduating, Robinson plans to stay in Victoria and continue to assist other Caribean groups with aid for rebuilding the Bahamas. Now, given the state of the Bahamas, she simply can’t go back for the foreseeable future.
It’s completely uncertain how long it will take before the Bahamas can return to a sense of normalcy. As of Sep. 9, there was no power or running water in Freeport. Although her parents are now safe and she has returned to classes, Robinson will continue to focus on helping the Bahamas in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian.
“I have a life here, and it’s moving on quite fluidly, without any hindrance of what’s happening [in the Bahamas] besides my own mentality,” Robinson said. “That feels very selfish and that feels very strange, but it’s also a need so that I can get [resources sent] down for them that I couldn’t do there.”
Support for the reconstruction of Robinson’s family home can be directed to her GoFundMe page.