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In the Bahamas, amid unspeakable devastation from Dorian, some small signs of hope

Virginia Cooper stood on the foundation of what is left of her High Rock, Bahamas, home after Hurricane Dorian.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

HIGH ROCK, Grand Bahama — They found his cousin’s body out back, a couple dozen feet from the back door.

The police had arrived Thursday, when the waters had finally subsided, and Rendal “Yanks” Munnings Sr. was standing outside what was left of his small home. There was a corpse near his property, the authorities told him, and because Munnings knew everyone in this small island town, he offered to help identify it.

As he made his way through the brush and debris, though, the 56-year-old Munnings immediately recognized the body as that of his cousin.

“That’s Marvin,” he said. “Same clothes I left him in.”


Across the Bahamas, communities are struggling to deal with the devastation wrought by Dorian, a Category 5 hurricane and the most powerful storm ever to hit the islands. Some 70,000 people are homeless, and the death toll continues to mount.

Since the storm first hit last Sunday night, bringing parts of this typically tranquil country to its knees, officials have worked to determine the true extent of the damage — in dollars and in lives.

A relative placed food items on the dining room table inside Tiffany Baillou’s home. Baillou lost her roof to Hurricane Dorian.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

And in this town of just a few hundred people along the southern edge of Grand Bahama island, evidence of disaster was everywhere.

The health center was gone. The pink-walled police station was a shell. Home after home had been torn apart, many down to the foundation. There is no electricity or running water. Friends and family are missing, either killed in the hurricane or, by now, presumed so.

At first, High Rock had been almost unreachable, the Grand Bahama Highway under water. Even five days after the storm first hit land, portions of the road are barely passable. Fish swam in pools of standing brown water, not far from downed power lines.

On Friday, Virginia Cooper stood in silence as she surveyed what remained of her small restaurant, where she’d long earned rave reviews from locals for her ability to serve up, as she put it, “anything with a spoon.”


Now, though, she couldn’t even get through the door, the debris inside, including a toppled freezer and refrigerator, blocking the entrance. Her home, located behind the restaurant, was in even worse shape.

“I didn’t want to come,” said Cooper, who had left High Rock before the storm hit and was in no hurry to return to the nightmare she knew awaited her. “Because I didn’t want to see the place.”

Tiffany Baillou broke down upon seeing a family member arrive at her home for the first time since Hurricane Dorian.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

A block or two away, a small van rumbled to a stop just off Grand Bahamas Highway, and the man behind the wheel — a pastor wearing a Chicago Bulls cap and the weary expression of a man who had been through much — got out and lumbered slowly down a side road.

He dodged tree branches and fallen power lines until arriving at what, five days earlier, had been his home.

Pedyson Baillou is a pastor, and, at 61, had lived in High Rock all his life. Now, there is nothing left but a slab of foundation — no roof, no walls, no sign this was a place that a family called home, other than some floor tiles where the kitchen had been and an overturned toilet in what was once a bathroom.

“This is it,” Baillou said. “This is me. What’s left.”

As reports of the hurricane’s approach spread, Baillou had been among those who had heeded the warnings of government officials and evacuated.


Many others stayed.

Rendal “Yanks” Munnings Sr. left clothes to dry atop a car in his yard.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Hurricanes are a part of life on the island, after all, and this familiarity, perhaps, had fostered a false sense of security. At its worst, Dorian produced wind gusts of 220 miles per hour and water as high as 20 feet. Those who lived through it described it as unlike anything they’ve ever seen.

The stories that have emerged paint a startling picture: One woman slept in a bathtub. The pastor’s son, Pedro, spent two days clinging to a mango tree, waiting for the waters to recede. A woman trying to escape her home had handed her baby to fellow townspeople moments before being swept away to sea.

As of Saturday, Bahamian officials had confirmed 43 casualties, including eight on Grand Bahama island, but that number is sure to grow significantly in the coming days and weeks.

In the back of a pickup truck on Grand Bahamas Highway on Friday morning, a group of men helping with recovery said they had already discovered multiple bodies.

“One was inside a house, so we left them inside,” said Vardo Thomas, 36. “You take it outside and leave it in the heat, it’ll swell and burst.”

Indeed, on a single street in High Rock, several people have been touched by death. On Friday afternoon, an elderly man, bone thin, wandered slowly down the desolate street, looking dazed.

“He lost his daughter and his family,” explained a neighbor, Oralee Laing, watching the man from a seat outside her largely destroyed home.


A man in Freeport, Bahamas, paused to survey the damage left by Hurricane Dorian.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)/Globe Staff

There are many people still missing. And even as relief and rescue efforts continue, there is a grim understanding that those who haven’t been located by now would almost certainly not be coming back.

“The people who they’re looking for are out to sea,” said Shenia Roberts, 45, who was checking on family members who had insisted on remaining in their homes. “They’re gone.”

Amid the devastation, there are ample signs of humanity.

Relatives arrived from other towns, sometimes risking danger, to deliver supplies. Neighbors helped each other remove debris. And every so often in the otherwise devastating scene, laughter floated up from the distance.

It was telling, perhaps, that even with no electricity, no running water, and, in some cases, no walls, many residents in this small neighborhood had elected to remain at their dilapidated houses, taking some small comfort in being home — even if that word meant something vastly different than it had a week earlier.

“This is your roots — all your life,” Roberts explained. “Even though you’ve lost everything, just knowing you can still stand in that spot, it helps you.”

Large portions of a road were swept away by Hurricane Dorian.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

And then there is Cecil Willard Kamp’s lighthouse.

As the storm surrounded him last Sunday — as the winds howled and the waters rose and his wife and son sat atop a kitchen counter while Dorian pummeled away — Kamp thought about the lighthouse he had spent four years building, day after day, bucket after bucket of concrete.


And as Kamp sat trapped in his home as the hurricane hit, he hoped the lighthouse down the street a ways, at the point of land and at the tip of Dorian’s fury, would still be standing.

It was two days later before he was finally able to make it outside. His wife didn’t want him to go. The roads were still mostly impassable then, visibility minimal, and as he began the quarter-mile or so trek toward the water, surveying the damage around him, he began to consider the possibility that the lighthouse would be gone.

“Satan attacked me,” Kamp says. “He said, ‘It’s not there.’ But I said, ‘You don’t get the last say. God gets the last say.’ ”

He trudged forward, over piles of fallen pine trees and past the hollowed-out shells of his neighbors’ homes, until finally, there out toward the horizon, was the lighthouse. Battered, certainly, but still standing.

Royal Caribbean staff members loaded relief supplies onto a boat bound for Freeport, Bahamas, to bring to hurricane survivors.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Dugan Arnett can be reached at dugan.arnett@globe.com.