The search for closure

Three weeks after he claimed he witnessed his wife die during Hurricane Dorian, Howard Armstrong, 66, a resident of Freeport, Grand Bahama, yesterday pleaded to the government to issue a death certificate for her, whose body remains missing.

“We’re wanting a closure on this — a death certificate,” Armstrong told The Nassau Guardian.

“My wife has family in England and a lot of relatives there – older people – they’re wanting to know what’s going on. They’re going to have a big service there for her. I saw a couple of MPs here and there…I went up and questioned them.

“It’s seven years to get a death certificate. They need to do something about that.”

Despite surviving the tragedy of the storm, Armstrong said the most challenging part of the ordeal is not being able to find the body of his wife of 20 years, Lynn.

“Up to this date, I have not been able to find where my wife is,” he said.

Lynn Armstrong.

“You know, I’ve been to everybody I can. I went to the police department that morning when they rescued me straight away, and made a statement at the Lucayan Police Station. Then, I went to the Central Police Station which they had their own problems too; all the cars had been underwater and they were in chaos. Since then I have not heard anything.”

Asked if he was hopeful that he will locate her body, Armstrong said, “Well, I have to be hopeful but people have told me not to be because [of] the circumstances.”

Dorian is the strongest hurricane to ever hit the northern Bahamas with sustained winds of 185 miles per hour (mph) and gusts of 200 mph.

The deadly storm was stationary over Grand Bahama for more than 30 hours.

Armstrong described the storm as “the devil himself”.

Armstrong said kitchen appliances, glass and other items moved uncontrollably as violent storm surges gushed into his house on September 2.

“The water kept coming up and everything [was] flying around and the rage and the windows popped out,” he said.

“Now, you’ve got 180 mph winds blowing through the house. The only thing to stand on was the stove, so I got her on the stove and the cabinets were there. I got up behind here and I stood up there. I figured if we stand there the water should stop, but it never did. It kept coming up and coming up.”

Armstrong added, “When that water comes up in your house, all of the septic tank comes up. It comes out the sink and it is like you’re in the toilet, you know? You might as well had got flushed down the toilet and I was more concerned with getting sick because I thought the water was going to go back down…”

The former fisherman described his last moments with his wife as “short”.

“My wife said to me, ‘I think I’m going to die,’” Armstrong told The Guardian.

“I said, ‘You’re not going to die Lynn. You’re not going to die.’

“…You know, my adrenaline was running and I said, ‘I’m going to go outside and see if we can get out of here.’ And I went out under my porch, which didn’t exist the next day anyway, and it was just too dangerous.

“I came back and she had already perished, and I stayed with her a few minutes and I just got out of the house. I figured she would still be in there the next day but it wasn’t the case.”

He said after his wife died he swam outside in search of refuge.

Armstrong said he hung onto a tree for about three hours.

He said night came and still met him awaiting rescue.

However, he said, he noticed his fishing boat had sustained minimal damage so he swam to it and sought shelter in it for the night.

“I spent the night shivering on that boat,” Armstrong said.

“I wrapped up in the canvass that I’d taken off the back and thinking about my wife. The whole stern of that boat was jumping out the water.”

He said he thought he would die that night.

Armstrong said he swam back to his house the next morning where he was eventually rescued.

“Michael Pintard lives just down the road from me,” he said.

“They had a jet ski go to his house. I heard this noise and I stood on my boat flagging and the next thing jet skis were coming from everywhere.”

Armstrong said he still has nightmares about his experience during the storm.

“I’m crying like a baby in the morning and I’m having a lot of nightmares,” he said.

“The nightmares [are] the worst thing. You wake up with a thought and you can’t get it out of your mind the rest of the night. At daytime, it seems to be a little bit different.”

Armstrong said he doubts        he will move back into his home in Grand Bahama.

However, he said he hopes to start in new life in Grand Cay, Abaco, in the upcoming months.

Fifty-three people died during Dorian, but that number is expected to increase. Around 1300 people remain missing.

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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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