ORLANDO, Fla. — Bahamians are starting to make their way to the United States, with many choosing to stay with family while aid workers repair the Grand Bahama and Abaco Islands.
- Chiante Russell, kids & husband survived Dorian in the Bahamas
- Her sister days earlier feared Chiante was dead
- Chiante says they're nothing to return to on Great Abaco Island
- HOW TO HELP DORIAN RELIEF EFFORT:
At the Orlando International Airport late Friday night, two sisters reunited — just two days earlier, Dominique Alexander feared her sister Chiante Russell was dead.
She hadn’t heard from her in several days and knew her sister was caught up in Hurricane Dorian on the Great Abaco Island.
Russell called it a relief to be in the United States with family.
“Just overwhelmed to get out … Fresh air is really important,” Russell said.
“It’s still unbelievable right now,” said Alexander as she picked up her sister in the airport.
She’s still surprised her sister and her family had not only survived the storm, but also made it to Florida and were coming to stay with her.
Hurricane Dorian, a category 5 storm when it hit Abaco Islands, was the strongest hurricane on record to strike the Bahamas.
It snapped off trees, flattened homes, and ripped off roofs on others. Russell said flood waters entered her home leading her, her husband, and two young children to flee on a flatbed truck and head to a shelter late Sunday.
“This was the worst of the worst. This was survival of the fittest,” Russell recalled.
“The bathroom started to flood. The water just ‘gush, gush, gush,’ coming out of the toilet. It flooded really fast. Everything started to shake… We heard something hit my bedroom window… It wasn’t nothing ordinary,” Russell said, adding that she had survived hurricanes Floyd, Jeanne, and Frances on the island.
The stench on the trip to the shelter is something she’ll never forget.
“Just dead. Be it animals, be it human beings — I don’t know. Fish in the water. You just (had) to go,” Russell explained.
- RELATED: Get more Dorian coverage here
The family sought shelter at a government complex for more than three days. Russell said one list she saw mentioned there were 170 people there, and one bathroom, which she said her family didn’t use.
“The shelters are horrible. All of them are horrible. Everyone had to fight for their own food. There wasn’t enough water,” Russell said.
“There wasn’t enough anything for survival mode, so you had to really either get out or fight. I wasn’t trying to fight for anything or anyone. I just wanted me and my family safe,” she said.
As soon as they heard flights were available, they switched a flight they had already booked for later in the year, and bought two tickets for their kids and flew to Nassau. There they had to pay for a hotel and stayed a day before getting on more flights to Florida.
“Abaco is no longer. I don’t know when it will ever become Abaco like the Abaco I know, because I’ve been there forever. Seeing it how it is can be very traumatizing… because this is nothing that we know. This is nothing that we call home,” Russell said.
Russell was also shaken up about the people who didn’t survive. She said she lost three coworkers.
“We lost a lot. I lost a lot of my friends,” Russell said.
She called it a bittersweet moment Friday, when the family left the Bahamas for Florida.
“I’m trying to get away. Trying to get my kids away from it. Like I said, there’s nothing left to go back to this point,” Russell said.