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'It was like a war zone:' Bahamian-Canadian tells first person account of Hurricane Dorian

Bahamian-Canadian Jessica Mullen had been living in Elbow Cay, in the Abaco Islands of the Bahamas, up until last Saturday. She boarded a plane to Canada after Hurricane Dorian caused massive devastation to her homeland.

Jessica Mullen is staying at her brother's home in Kincardine, Ont.

An aerial view of damage caused by Hurricane Dorian is seen on Great Abaco Island. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

"The pictures aren't doing it justice," Jessica Mullen said as she skimmed through photographs of the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian on her phone. 

Mullen is a Bahamian-Canadian who was living in Elbow Cay, in the Abaco Islands of the Bahamas, up until last Saturday. She boarded a plane to fly to Canada, where she's staying at her brother's home in Kincardine, Ont..

The island she calls home, and its people, are struggling to rebuild after a category 5 hurricane hit the Bahamas on Sept. 1. It destroyed more than 13,000 homes and killed at least 44 people.  

"[The pictures] pale in comparison to what you see with your own eyes," Mullen continued. "I saw concrete pillars and bomb-proof shelters just destroyed ... Ferries were up on land, buildings were gone, there was debris, nails were everywhere ... It was like a war zone," she told CBC News. 

Women walk through the rubble in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian on the Great Abaco island town of Marsh Harbour, Bahamas, September 3, 2019. (Dante Carrer/Reuters )

Mullen was born in the Bahamas, but spent her childhood and young adulthood in Canada. After graduating from Western University, she went back to her homeland where she's lived for the past 10 years working with a property rental company.  

Riding out the storm 

Upon hearing the magnitude of the storm that was heading her way, Mullen realized her small cottage wouldn't keep her safe, so she connected with a property owner from the rental company she works for. They allowed Mullen and her partner to stay with them to ride out the storm. 

On Saturday night, the group barricaded themselves in the most secure room in the house. They watched through a hurricane-proof window as Dorian swept through the neighbourhood.

But, the security didn't last very long for the group. 

"By Sunday afternoon we could hear the roof starting to collapse above us and the rain started to enter the room," Mullen recalled. "We saw the bedroom furniture from the room above us fly outside on the ground. That's when we knew that the structure was about to be compromised," she added. 

The eye of the storm hit Elbow Cay on the morning of Sunday Sept. 1. ( Jessica Mullen)

Before the storm arrived, Mullen had gone through the house to assess options in case something like this happened. She knew an underground garage was about 7 metres away from the group, connected by a breezeway.

"We made a run for it," she said. 

"When I made it out past the edge of the room into the breezeway, a tunnel of wind knocked me down," Mullen recalled. The wind worked to her advantage, pushing her right into the door of the garage she was headed toward. 

"Had the wind pushed me slightly into any other direction, I would've been blown off," she said. The group remained in the garage until Tuesday morning, nearly three days after Dorian's landfall. On Wednesday, they were finally able to leave and see the destruction.  

By Friday, Mullan traveled to Nassau by boat. She caught a flight to Canada the next day. 

"I'm one of the very few that's able to do that," Mullen said.  "A lot of people are stuck in Nassau or have been displaced to Florida and they're scared and have nothing."

Upon her arrival to Canada, Mullen has been trying to figure out ways to help people in the Bahamas. (Submitted by Jessica Mullen)

Helping those back home 

Mullen has been trying to find ways to help people on the island since arriving in Kincardine. 

"We've got a lot of people who are secure, but we also have a lot of people who still aren't getting what they need," she said. 

Mullen has been talking to local MP's and non-profit disaster relief organizations about what kind of help is needed. 

"I'm getting so many messages from people [in the Bahamas] saying 'I physically made it through that storm, but mentally I can't focus,'" she said.

"People are contemplating suicide because they've lost their entire families and everything they own," she added. 

Government agencies, charity groups and cruise ships with supplies and volunteers from different countries have been on the island to help those who were affected.

Last week, Canada pledged $500,000 to help the Canadian Red Cross with relief efforts. A Canadian Disaster Assistance Team (CDAT) was sent to Nassau to assess the needs on the ground while nine firefighters from Burnaby, B.C., volunteered to help search for victims and survivors.

About the Author

Sofia Rodriguez

Reporter/Editor

Sofia Rodriguez is a reporter with CBC News in London. She is a recent graduate of Western University and Fanshawe College. You can email her at sofia.rodriguez@cbc.ca