Islander India Hicks recalls stories of bravery and hope in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian7 min read

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Among the helpers was British-born model and entrepreneur India Hicks, who lives on neighbouring Harbour island with her partner, advertising executive turned designer David Flint Wood

Among the helpers was British-born model and entrepreneur India Hicks, who lives on neighbouring Harbour island with her partner, advertising executive turned designer David Flint Wood

There was the tiny baby too dehydrated to move. 

The girl who’d lost everything save the elderly father by her side and the woman so battered by the elements she could barely walk.

A dazed young boy clung to a cereal box for comfort while families haunted by memories of roofs being ripped off their homes wept. 

They stumbled, traumatised and disorientated, off the boats — all victims of Hurricane Dorian, the worst natural disaster to hit the Bahamas.

They had travelled ten days ago from the Abaco islands in the north of the Bahamas to the northern dock of Eleuthera island, where they were greeted by a team of about 60 volunteers who dressed wounds, offered clothes and fed mouths deprived of food for five days.

The volunteers’ efforts were all the more remarkable given few had been involved in disaster relief before. In the space of three days, they helped rescue 600 of the total 5,000 Bahamians evacuated.

It has been more than two weeks since Hurricane Dorian hit. It was a category five, the most severe possible. Houses were flattened by 185mph gales and families reportedly drowned when even standing on their kitchen counters

It has been more than two weeks since Hurricane Dorian hit. It was a category five, the most severe possible. Houses were flattened by 185mph gales and families reportedly drowned when even standing on their kitchen counters

Among the helpers was British-born model and entrepreneur India Hicks, who lives on neighbouring Harbour island with her partner, advertising executive turned designer David Flint Wood. 

This part of the Bahamas — a collection of tiny islands off the east coast of America — escaped the worst of the storm, which unleashed its fury on the Abaco islands and Grand Bahama, 70 miles to the north. 

‘I feel very emotional,’ says India, 52. ‘Everyone in our community was desperate to help.

We all shared this sense of how unbelievably lucky we were, that this could have been us. It was just by some stroke of Mother Nature’s will that the hurricane was misdirected.’

Three local men — Scott Aranha, Will Tomlinson and Steven Cartwright — assembled a flotilla of borrowed boats to travel the treacherous two-hour journey to collect evacuees.

And charity New Providence Community Centre is raising cash to help the housing crisis.

India sounds shocked — and with good reason, given the Bahamas’ current state of emergency, with 76,000 people (a fifth of the population) homeless.

‘This will become the bigger crisis,’ says India. ‘Where on earth are homes, jobs and schooling for those people? I have no idea.’

It has been more than two weeks since Hurricane Dorian hit. It was a category five, the most severe possible. 

India says: ‘Nothing has ever compared to what Dorian did. The devastation is beyond anyone’s comprehension.’

Houses were flattened by 185mph gales and families reportedly drowned when even standing on their kitchen counters. 

It wasn’t enough to protect them from the 20ft tsunami-like wave the storm pushed on to land.

India's sons Felix and Amory help with the relief effort. India's first thought when the hurricane hit was for her eldest son Wesley, 22, whom David and India adopted when he was 12 and who lives in Grand Bahama

India’s sons Felix and Amory help with the relief effort. India’s first thought when the hurricane hit was for her eldest son Wesley, 22, whom David and India adopted when he was 12 and who lives in Grand Bahama

Cars and boats were tossed through the air like kites and bodies were swept out to sea. 

The official death toll is 50 but that figure is sure to rise because so many people are missing.

‘Normally, people who come here jet on a water taxi to cross a little bay to Harbour island where they begin their beautiful holiday,’ says India. ‘Suddenly, that place was an evacuee camp.’

The people are used to bracing themselves for hurricanes — but Dorian was on a different scale.

India adds: ‘We fill our bathtubs to ensure we have enough fresh water. We have canned goods. Anything that could become a flying object — outside furniture, plant pots — is brought in.’ 

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While many newer properties are built to withstand damage, India and David’s home lacks sophisticated protection. 

She says: ‘We have shutters we board up with battens — old-school but still very effective.’

This part of the Bahamas — a collection of tiny islands off the east coast of America — escaped the worst of the storm, which unleashed its fury on the Abaco islands and Grand Bahama, 70 miles to the north

This part of the Bahamas — a collection of tiny islands off the east coast of America — escaped the worst of the storm, which unleashed its fury on the Abaco islands and Grand Bahama, 70 miles to the north

Her first thought when the hurricane hit was for her eldest son Wesley, 22, whom David and India adopted when he was 12 and who lives in Grand Bahama.

India managed to get him to her home via a small aircraft flying to the capital Nassau. 

‘It was incredibly fortunate,’ she says. ‘It would have been terrifying not to have communication with him.’

As Hurricane Dorian drew closer, India and David shuttered themselves inside with Wesley, their other sons Felix, 22, and Amory, 20, and their daughter, Domino, 11 (their fifth child Conrad, 16, was on a rugby camp in England). 

‘The pattern was all too familiar. India says: ‘Angry bursts of torrential, rain that hurts your face. The screaming of the wind is deafening and can go on for hours.’

She says her elder boys have grown accustomed to the terrifying nature of hurricanes but for 11-year-old Domino, it was ‘nerve-racking’: ‘When you’re lying in bed and woken by the screeching of the wind and the shutters beginning to bang, it makes you nervous. You don’t know where the eye of the storm is going to hit.’

Yet in the end, it only amounted to a ‘wild storm’ over Harbour island and instead travelled north to the Abaco islands.

A relief programme was organised with local MPs. The three organisers of the rescue effort were joined by two local brothers, Will and Ben Simmons, who opened the doors to a community centre where the growing group of volunteers met.

India says: ‘I said, “What can I be doing? Give me a job.”’ Around 20 residents offered the use of their boats — from speedboats to fishing boats — to travel to Abaco. 

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No planes were coming in and out. People there hadn’t been fed and had no medical assistance. They were trapped.’

Cars and boats were tossed through the air like kites and bodies were swept out to sea. The official death toll is 50 but that figure is sure to rise because so many people are missing

Cars and boats were tossed through the air like kites and bodies were swept out to sea. The official death toll is 50 but that figure is sure to rise because so many people are missing

Her son Wesley was in the first boat on the dangerous trip on the debris-filled waters. ‘I was very concerned,’ she says. And proud? ‘I was, but I hope my children have been brought up to react in situations like this.’

The boat returned with 68 evacuees crammed on. Wesley told India the level of destruction was ‘beyond anything’ he’d ever seen.

India and other volunteers set up a rehabilitation area by the dock. A church donated benches and a hotel provided tents for shade from the scorching sun.

She teamed up with a hotel to help make 900 ham and cheese sandwiches, which her sons Amory and Felix helped hand out. 

Their sister Domino, who is at school in England but was home for the summer, drew hearts on the paper food bags. With no running water, volunteers cleaned the survivors with baby wipes.

The volunteers put 150 evacuees on a boat to Nassau, where some had family. Others went to stay in church centres.

India was ‘humbled’ by the evacuees’ gratitude. One mother’s dehydrated baby was reluctant to let India change his nappy.

‘His mother said, “Don’t be scared, she is now family,” and handed the baby over.’

Disaster agencies have now made it to the Abaco islands and those in charge of the rescue effort have moved north to help those in Grand Bahama.

India is still full of hope. She says: ‘This was a massive natural disaster and yet the human spirit triumphs.’

New Providence Community Centre is a charity raising money for the housing crisis caused by Hurricane Dorian (www.npcconline.org/hurricane)