Mother of three hopes to put traumatic storm experience behind her

Abaco resident Lakeria Simms, 29, recalls praying her roof would not cave in as she, her boyfriend and their three children were forced to sleep in their bathroom for seven hours as the catastrophic storm pummeled her hometown earlier this month, and is now hoping to put that traumatic experience behind her.

“I was just praying. I didn’t want to have to run out into the storm with my children,” she said.

“We had to take in our neighbor because everything started crumbling on her side. Then on our landlord’s side, his roof came off, his windows were busted, and his door came off.”

Simms lived in Murphy Town for as long as she could remember. 

She said: “It was very scary watching everything just crumble before your eyes.”

September 4 marked five years since she opened her business, Victorious Services.

Simms made a living doing school pickups, babysitting, providing cleaning services and running errands.

“It’s been a while since I’ve been on someone else’s job,” she said.

“So, starting over now and bringing my kids over to Nassau is like a burden to me.”

She knows it will not be easy putting the Dorian experience behind her.

During the first half of the storm, she said, the plywood that was nailed to protect one of her apartment’s windows was blown away by the storm’s 185 miles per hour winds.

The roof of her apartment then started to leak as more pieces of wood were ripped from the building.

“We had to lift up our bed; we had to take all of our clothes out of the drawers. It was literally like it was raining inside of our apartment,” she said.

“We had to keep sweeping water out. I think we would’ve had water sitting right below our kneecaps if we didn’t do that. We were actually sweeping water for most of the storm.”

While the eye of the storm passed, Simms said, everyone in her community tried to make a run for it, but they had the mammoth task of removing debris flung into the roads by the hurricane.

She said she watched her neighbors, both adults and children, jump from the second floor of their homes in an effort to find shelter.

Simms said her family left the apartment after receiving word that a tornado was headed in their direction. 

“That’s when we decided to run. We grabbed our important documents, grabbed our kids and we had to walk through water up to our knee to get out,” she said.

“I was running through the water with my baby trying to see if we could jump on a truck to try to make it to a shelter.”

Simms said the night she and her family spent at the government complex in Marsh Harbour was a total nightmare.

She said she saw occupants of the packed shelter urinating and defecating on the floor.

They were trapped in a small cubicle packed with at least 12 individuals sleeping on the floor.

The following morning, she said, she and her family returned to their apartment where they stayed for the next day.

She said: “I would rather stay in the apartment with the leaking roof than stay there another day.”

The following day, they caught a flight to New Providence where they are staying with family.

Since coming from Abaco two weeks ago, she said, her boyfriend managed to secure two jobs, working day and night to make ends meet.

Their main objective, she said, is to stay in New Providence for two years or until they are able to get back on their feet, but she hopes to move back to Abaco sooner as that is where she prefers to raise her family.

Two of Simms’ kids are in school, and she is thankful that they were spared in the wrath of the storm. The youngest is one year old.

Simms eventually intends to resume her babysitting and cleaning services.

On September 8, the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) reported that 3,500 people had been evacuated through public and private efforts from Abaco and Grand Bahama to New Providence.

Some evacuees now face significant challenges finding housing and jobs. 

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