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Hurricane Dorian's Australian survivors describe ocean swallowing Bahamas island

By North America correspondent James Glenday and John Mees in the Bahamas, Thursday September 5, 2019 - 17:33 EST
ABC licensed image
Australians Susan Buzzi (left) and Kim Skene live on Grand Bahama. - ABC licensed

Australians caught in the Bahamas during Hurricane Dorian have described how the ocean "literally swallowed the island".

Kim Skene and Susan Buzzi, who live on the main island of Grand Bahama, were nervous the moment the hurricane strengthened to a rare category five system over the weekend.

The two friends and their families were thought to be among the only Australians in Freeport when Dorian hit.

They said they had been through many big storms before, but that nothing could have prepared them for the terrifying wind gusts and huge storm surge of the second-strongest Atlantic hurricane recorded.

"It was so loud, so windy, and there was just so much rain," Ms Skene said.

"It was really scary and it just did not stop. It kept going and going. We were really worried."

A rare combination of conditions saw Dorian park itself almost on top of their community for the best part of a day and a half, unleashing blinding rain, winds of up to 300 kilometres an hour and a storm surge thought to be between 5 and 7 metres high.

Ms Skene, who had joined a hurricane chat group, watched in horror as locals posted pictures of flood waters steadily rising into their attics, before suddenly going offline.

At a local animal shelter, 230 of the nearly 300 creatures inside were drowned.

Boats beached and fish swim in the streets

The women said the ocean "literally swallowed the island" and consumed many homes.

"We are so lucky. We live on the south side and it was one of the only bits that didn't flood," Ms Buzzi said.

"It's just horrifying to look at what's happened."

"No-one could go out during the storm. It was just way too strong."

They shared pictures of Dorian's dystopian aftermath with the ABC.

In the images at footage, fish swim in the town's streets, boats are beached, and entire solid concrete walls have disappeared from homes — the wind and water destroying everything inside.

There are many people who have not been heard from on Grand Bahama and the neighbouring island of Abaco, though that could partly be because communication is limited and the power is down.

Both women expect the official death toll of 20 to rise substantially and say the island will never be the same again.

"They're still trying to rescue people now, there were so many in their attics, on their roofs," Ms Buzzi said.

"I think quite a lot of people have died. The level of the water was just insane."

Although their houses survived, the storm has come at a personal cost for Ms Buzzi.

She runs a gymnastics academy, which was inundated. The gym and all the equipment is a write-off.

Years of rebuilding ahead

The weather has been so fierce, much-needed aid is only now starting to reach Grand Bahama from the nearby capital of Nassau.

Getting supplies in is a massive logistical challenge because the airport and ports have been badly damaged and are strewn with wreckage.

It will take months to clean up and years to fully rebuild.

Ms Skene and Ms Buzzi, who are from Wollongong and Nowra respectively, hope Australians and the Morrison Government can offer some sort of assistance.

"There are so many people who have just lost everything," Ms Skene said.

"It's just tragic. You can see it in the pictures.

"They need everything they can get. We'd be very grateful."


© ABC 2019

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