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Dorian survivor tells inquest she was ‘walking on bodies’

A woman who survived the horror of Hurricane Dorian broke into tears yesterday in the Coroner’s Court as she recalled walking over dead bodies in Marsh Harbour, Abaco, in search of her husband who had refused to evacuate prior to the storm in 2019. 

Coroner Jeanine Weech-Gomez is holding an inquest into the presumed deaths of 34 people reported missing after the storm.

Charlene James translated the emotional testimony of Tervilla Saintill, of Mackey Street.

A few minutes into Saintill’s testimony, Weech-Gomez instructed the court to take a five-minute recess after Saintill was overcome with grief after confirming that she had filed a missing person report for her husband, Emmanuel Saintill, in the wake of Dorian.

When the hearing resumed, Saintill testified that she had pleaded with her husband to evacuate their home, which was located in the Pigeon Pea shantytown, with her and their child on August 31, 2019 – one day before Dorian made landfall on Abaco.

She said that her husband was not “making any movements for us to go”.

So, according to Saintill, she took her child and left.

“I left him behind,” she testified.

Saintill said she went to the home of Emmanuel’s cousin in Murphy Town, Abaco.

She said when she arrived there, she called her husband.

“I asked him, ‘Why don’t I see you?’” Saintill told the court.

“He said, ‘Don’t check. I’m coming.’ The whole night went by and I didn’t see him. The next morning I called him, but I did not hear from him.” 

She said she asked his cousin to take her back to Marsh Harbour.

However, according to Saintill, he refused and advised her not to leave.

As a result, she weathered the storm in Murphy Town, Saintill said.

“The cousin[’s] house fell on us,” Saintill said as she fought tears.

“After that, I got hit and the child also got hit. After that, we went to another house in the neighborhood that wasn’t damaged. On Monday, I saw someone passing and I asked them what happened in Marsh Harbour.

“They told me, ‘Marsh Harbour mashed up [and] a lot of persons died.’

“I left the child in the cousin’s hands and I left. I walked and started to search Marsh Harbour to see if I saw him.”

She said she eventually made it to where she lived in Pigeon Pea.

“I started searching and was walking on dead people,” Saintill said.

“Three days searching, on Wednesday, a guy named Ricky, he told me there was somebody [who] died next to [his] car. He called for them to remove the person. I ran to look. I saw it was my husband. After that, immigration came for him.”

Both James and Saintill broke down.

Weech-Gomez said she understood how difficult it was for Saintill.

“It’s difficult for us so I can only imagine,” she said.

After a few minutes, Saintill continued, “They put him in a bag and zipped it up and carried him.”

She said police came to a shelter where she was staying post-Dorian and took DNA swabs from her child.

Saintill said that “no one has said anything to me”. 

‘She was not a swimmer’ 

Jason Farquharson, who works for Woslee Construction, also testified at yesterday’s hearing.

His wife, Kathleen Farquharson, has been missing since Dorian.

He said he filed a missing person report on September 30, 2019.

Farquharson said his wife’s son, Kahlel Smith, was swabbed for DNA.

“There was no match made to whether a body was found or not,” he testified. 

Farquharson said he was not on Abaco with his wife during the storm.

He said that during the storm she stayed in her two-storey house, which was “right on the waterfront”, in Marsh Harbour.

He said Smith was with her.

Smith is expected to testify but could not make it yesterday because he was not able to travel from Exuma, according to Inspector Edna Pratt, police prosecutor.

As a result, Farquharson recalled what Smith told him happened to Kathleen during Dorian.

“When I spoke to him, he had told me that during the storm they opened the door because persons were knocking and seeking shelter,” Farquharson said.

“Upon opening the door, where the winds were so strong, it tore the door off the hinges and blew the door away. At that time, they tried to block the entrance of the door but the winds were too strong and they started to feel the roof shaking.

“At that point, he told his mom to put on her tennis and they put a blanket around her and they went out on the balcony. When they went out on the balcony, a short time after, where the surges were so severe, the balcony fell and both he and his mother fell into the waters.”

He recalled Smith telling him that he struggled to keep his head above water.

Farquharson said Smith told him that he decided to go to the bottom of the water and push himself up.

Smith subsequently swam to a pole which he held onto, according to Farquharson.

He said Smith blacked out for “a few minutes”.

“When he came to, he was still holding onto the pole and he began looking around for his mom,” Farquharson said.

“He saw her tennis and swam over to the debris and tried to turn her body right side up. During that time, there were some people who were on a boat – over from a distance – that saw him and they were trying to get his attention. They barely could see him because he was shouting at them to go help his mom. 

“They couldn’t hear what he was trying to say because he was trying to keep the body to the surface. So … after a while, he just decided to leave her and swim to the boat.”

Farquharson said Smith returned to the area to search for his mother after the storm passed.

However, according to him, there was “no success”.

Farquharson said he has come to the conclusion that his wife likely “drowned because I know she was not a swimmer”.

‘Difficult for anyone to survive’ 

Dorian was a monster Category 5 storm that ravaged Abaco and Grand Bahama in September 2019 and left scores of people missing and dozens dead.

It is the strongest storm to ever hit The Bahamas.

During his testimony, Michael Stubbs, deputy director at the Department of Meteorology, noted that the storm had storm surges that were between 20 and 28 feet.

He said this was “very high given the lay of the low lying land in Abaco”. 

“We have moving water along with high winds … so it makes it very difficult for anybody on the outside to survive,” Stubbs said.

He said there were “a number of tornadoes embedded” in the storm.

“Given the nature of tornadoes, the winds of tornadoes can exceed that of hurricanes – up to 300 miles per hour,” Stubbs said.

“But, the only saving grace is the average lifespan of tornadoes is about 15 minutes.”

Stubbs described Dorian as a “catastrophic storm”.

He said he was “emotionally traumatized” as he forecasted the storm.

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Jasper Ward

Jasper Ward started at The Nassau Guardian in September 2018. Ward covers a wide range of national and social issues. Education: Goldsmiths, University of London, MA in Race, Media and Social Justice

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