‘I thought we would die’

As she waited to be rescued from her attic, Toni Sweeting, a 34-year-old mother of three, thought Hurricane Dorian, a vicious Category 5 storm, would kill her and her family.

“I really thought that we were going to die, honestly,” Sweeting told The Nassau Guardian.

She added, “I was crying. All of us were crying. We just kept praying and asking God to spare our lives. We really thought we were going to die.

“While we were up in the roof, you could just hear the shingles, the tiles just popping off the house. At one point, we could see the roof lifting a little on the side.

“I thought that was it for us. I already told myself, ‘Alright, we’re going to be in this body count. We’re not going to make it.’ I just had to keep praying and singing.”

Sweeting, who lives “over the bridge” in Grand Bahama, said her two young sons – ages four and six – were oblivious to the possibility of their demise that loomed as the storm tore through the island.

“They [were] scared but they didn’t really understand the extent of [it],” she said.

“A lot of the times we were up in the roof, they were just playing with each other. They didn’t really understand, but my daughter, the 13-year-old, she was really traumatized by that.

“She was crying. She understood exactly what was going on, and especially hearing what happened in Abaco – all the people who died – she was just as scared as us.”

As she fought tears, Sweeting described the moment she realized that Dorian would be catastrophic.

She said the water in her house rose to roughly 10 feet.

“The water started just getting higher and higher until we could see it completely cover the first floor of our house,” Sweeting said.

“At that point, we had furniture floating and appliances floating. While we were upstairs, we could hear it knocking up against the second floor. I was scared that we were going to fall through…the second floor and down into all that water. The water was black like you could not see anything in it.

“It was like an ocean inside our home. The waves were coming through and it was very black. We had a jet ski at one point but we sold it but we still had the life vests. So, I put [those] on my boys. As all of this was happening, we were calling out for help and we’re trying to get people to try and rescue us.

“One of my sisters-in-law, she told me, ‘Try get a piece of rope and tie [yourselves] together in case anyone falls in the water.’

“While they had on the life vests, I found a drop cord and I tied it through the back of my boys’ life vests to keep them together.”

Sweeting said she had planned to evacuate the house but her husband convinced her to stay.

“They convinced me to stay even though we didn’t want to,” she said.

“…All I kept saying to myself was, ‘Why did I listen? Why did I stay here? Why didn’t I go?’”

Sweeting said her family spent six hours in the attic.

During that time, she said, they ate canned spaghetti and used a bucket as their toilet.

“We had to keep checking down to see if the water had started coming down [but] it was so dark,” she said.

“At one point, we couldn’t really see the water. We had to just try get our flashlight. My husband had to go down and put his foot down to see if the water started to go down. That was horrifying and just to think about it again is making me start to cry.”

Her family was rescued by one of her husband’s friends on September 3.

“I was extremely grateful but still a little afraid to ride the jet ski because the storm wasn’t completely over yet,” Sweeting said.

“The water was still high. We drove through the roads covered with water on the jet ski.”

She said she and her family lost the house they were living in and the house they were building next door.

Sweeting said their home, which was nearly completed, only needed furniture.

“That is completely gone,” she said.

“The roof is still on but everything else – all our cabinets we just bought, our cabinets, our toilets and all the plumbing; that’s gone.”

Sweeting added, “We want to try and see if we can rebuild. I know it seems impossible now but that’s the only thing we can do now.”

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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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