Life or death decisions in the face of a deadly storm

As Hurricane Dorian slowly exited The Bahamas yesterday, more harrowing stories of survival emerged out of Grand Bahama, which suffered a direct hit.

With the hurricane’s sustained winds having peaked at 185 miles per hour (mph), and gusts of over 220 mph recorded, Dorian was the second strongest hurricane in recorded history.

Tim Aylen, a Grand Bahama resident, recalled the moments that led to his decision to abandon his home and wade through chest-high water with his wife and children.

“When you see your family in front of you asking what you’re going to do, and you really don’t know,” he said.

“Like you hear all the advice of, ‘Go into the attic, and go on the roof.’

“Both those are so dangerous. When you’re looking at your kids and you’re looking at your dog, an attic is a trap. They say, ‘Well, take an axe and just go and cut it.’

“Well, you can’t do that. You’re going into a closed space.”

He added, “Then there was the decision to go out, but you are, you know, it’s up to your neck and it’s rising fast, and when I picture my son, I could barely see his head.

“I was just panicking that he was going to go under.”

Grand Bahama, which already had scars of several powerful hurricanes in the past 15 years, flooded extensively as Hurricane Dorian sat over the island for nearly two days.

Stranded people who still had cellular service sent messages begging for rescue as their homes flooded. One video that made the rounds on social media showed a family in an attic watching the powerful surge rush in.

Aylen, a photographer whose home is located far inland, said he had never witnessed such a dangerous storm.

“We have experienced a lot of hurricanes in our time, but nothing like this,” he said.

“I mean, I’ve been through Andrew and I’ve been through hurricanes, actually in Freeport a long time ago, David, but nothing that was threatening like this.”

Aylen said he never expected such an intense storm surge to impact his home. He said it took only two minutes for it to fill with several feet of water.

“It sounds like an exaggeration that your house could fill up that quickly, but if I can describe it to you; I was asleep and my son and the other family were up, and my son just walked past the garage, and he says, ‘Mum, I see water coming into the garage,’” he recounted.

“And then they both looked outside and they saw it rising up to the cars, and she came to me in the bedroom, and by the time she got me up out of bed and we stepped out, the water was pouring into the front door, and it was about a foot high. So, that was like 30 seconds, and then, in about two minutes, it was just flooding through the door.”

He added, “You open the door, and the water’s just pouring in, and you think, ‘No that’s going to flood the house.’

“So we closed the door just to give us more time to think, and then we turned off all the breakers because we started hearing popping in the house, and you’re panicking that you’re going to get electrocuted. So it’s really, really frightening, and you’re standing there, like, ‘What do we do?’

“But we had bags ready with all our dry gear and stuff, so we grabbed those and we grabbed the dogs. We had three dogs. So I get out first, and we’re just passing everybody and the dogs through the window.”

After wading through the storm surge to safety, and securing his family in a shelter, Aylen said he did his best to join search and rescue efforts.

“I saw a front loader arriving with some families in the [cab] of the truck, like 15 people, so I rushed down there and helped everybody get out.

“And I rode with this guy, Brian Bethel, and we rode around for about two hours picking people up in this front loader.

“I mean, there’s imagery I’ve got in my head of the first time we left the church to go into the Forest, there’s this family running towards me, and they’re just like screaming and crying.”

He added, “This little girl, she just jumped into my arms and she was screaming.”

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Rachel Knowles

Rachel joined The Nassau Guardian in January 2019. Rachel covers national issues. Education: University of Virginia in Charlottesville, BA in Foreign Affairs and Spanish

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