FREEPORT, Bahamas – With hardly any water or food and with little electricity after the passage of Hurricane Dorian, thousands of people are now concentrating their efforts on the “odyssey” of trying to leave the Abacos and Grand Bahama islands.
Since the devastating hurricane left the Bahamas late Tuesday, many residents of the country’s second-largest city Freeport, on one of the worst-hit islands Grand Bahama, have been trying to escape the aftermath.
Venezuelan Argimiro Torres, 54, waits outside Freeport’s international airport with a group of four compatriots for his company to send a plane to evacuate them.
“That is our plane, the yellow one,” he tells EFE, hopeful that he will be lucky as he looks through the fence at the small aircraft.
Next to it is another small plane, which a group of people board before it takes off.
Other aircraft are loaded with essential supplies and it is agreed to evacuate a few people, whose names are part of a long waiting list.
Julio Cesar Ceballos is one of the group of Venezuelans working in the Bahamas for a company that repairs ships. The welder looks tired after days of stress and waits next to the airport to get out.
The air evacuation option came after Friday when they tried Freeport port, but there were “too many people” to get out.
A boat, which transferred those who were ill free of charge, soon filled up, he explains.
“It is an odyssey to get out of here,” laments Ceballos, who only thinks of being evacuated to be able to bathe and rest under air-conditioning.
About a thousand evacuees were more fortunate as they disembarked in Palm Beach in Florida, United States, on Saturday on a cruise ship of the Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line after an all-night voyage.
Another 300 people managed to board the Mariner of the Seas cruise liner. Loaded with large suitcases apparently carrying whatever little they have left, families with children and elderly people in wheelchairs board the ship bound for Nassau, capital of the Bahamas and a city not impacted by Dorian.
On Grand Bahama, people wait for supplies, whether for water, food or fuel, and line up before banks, as everything on the island is traded with cash. There is no way to pay by credit card as telephone and power lines are down.
The destroyed landscape, with fallen trees, collapsed roofs, shattered windows and damaged cars “parked” in the most unlikely places, is not an inviting place to stay.
The combined population of Grand Bahama and the neighboring Abaco islands is about 70,000 people.
Dorian stormed in over these islands last Sunday as the strongest (Category 5) hurricane with winds of 295 kilometers per hour, leaving at least 43 dead and an unknown number missing.
“It was very ugly. We are telling the story of a miracle, as we say in Venezuela,” says Torres, who had to leave his house when he saw the water level rising rapidly, and go to a shelter located in a higher area 1 kilometer (0.6 miles) away.
It took more than an hour and a half to get there – 90 minutes that became etched in memory as he and others waded through black water up to their chests and in fear of being fatally wounded by branches or objects dragged around by the strong winds.
“The water was moving as if a helicopter was taking off just above,” says Ceballos, who mourns the death of a couple with two sons who apparently died hugging each other when they could not escape their flooded home during the passage of the hurricane.
Now they all want to leave the island, rest and forget as much as possible what they have experienced, but with hunger, thirst and fatigue they must now arm themselves with patience.