Storm survivor: I really don’t understand how I’m still here

A Hurricane Dorian survivor, who last saw his mother when their balcony collapsed into flood waters, told a Coroner’s Inquest yesterday, “I really don’t understand how I’m still here.”

Kahlel Smith was testifying at an inquest into the presumed deaths of 34 people who were reported missing in the aftermath of the catastrophic storm. Coroner Jeanine Weech-Gomez is presiding over the inquiry without the usual five-member jury.

Smith testified via Zoom from Grand Bahama. The court is not equipped with a video screen, so the coroner’s clerk placed a laptop on two telephone directories.

Smith, a plumber, told the court that he was at work, but had stopped what he was doing because “this is important.”

Smith and his mother, Kathleen Farquharson, attempted to ride out the storm at their second-floor apartment in Marsh Harbour, Abaco, the court heard.

He said he had some misgivings about staying at home instead of evacuating to a shelter, but his mother said she felt they would be okay.

“I always had a bad feeling about it,” he recalled.

After the roof and ceiling of their home collapsed, Smith said, he and his mother sought refuge on the back balcony.

As flood waters raised 10 feet to the second floor of their building, the balcony also gave way.

Smith said that he could barely see. He said he swam away from the building and then looked for his mother, a non-swimmer, to help her.

However, Smith didn’t see any sign of his mother. He recalled swimming towards a boat that was wedged between a tree.

Smith said he and another person rode out the storm in the boat.

After the waters receded, Smith said, he returned to the area in search of his mother.

He said, “I [walked] that area to see if I could see signs of her body or clothing.”

The search continued for four to five days before he left for Nassau.

Smith said he made a formal missing person report on September 30, 2019 and provided a DNA sample.

He testified, “I just feel like she died. I just have to accept it. I [have] been searching everywhere and I couldn’t find her.”

Smith said, “I kept calling and calling, but they said they were waiting on results. They never called me, and I stopped calling after a while.”

Smith asked the coroner how he could get a death certificate.

Weech-Gomez replied that she would issue a certificate of death at the conclusion of the inquest, which he would take to the Registrar General’s Department to get a death certificate.

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Artesia Davis

Artesia primarily covers court stories, but she also writes extensively about crime.

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