'We have nothing': How a West Chicago woman's relatives lost everything in Hurricane Dorian
From her West Chicago home more than 1,000 miles away, Dee Grant watched helplessly as Hurricane Dorian barreled toward the northern Bahamas where she grew up -- and where many relatives still live.
A sinking feeling of fear and uneasiness overwhelmed her when the Category 5 storm made landfall Sept. 1, sustaining winds of up to 185 mph and battering Grand Bahama, the Abaco Islands and other parts of the archipelago for days.
But nothing compared to how Grant felt as the storm finally moved away and the extent of the devastation was revealed.
Communities she knew all too well were flooded and flattened. Tens of thousands of people were homeless, including her sister and nephew. About 50 people have been confirmed dead. And until this past weekend, she and relatives had no communication with her brother, no way of knowing whether he was alive.
"It's been a horrific week," Grant said. "I've really only been a shell of a person in Chicago because everything, every thought is in the Bahamas just thinking about my family."
Dorian isn't the first hurricane the family has encountered, but it's certainly the most devastating, said Grant's sister, Celia Grant-Forbes, whose Grand Bahama house is out of the flood zone and typically safe.
After the storm made landfall, Grant-Forbes was about to begin cooking when her daughter peered outside from behind the shutters and noticed water on the porch. Within moments, it was seeping into the house. Then, the front door burst open.
"Water was pouring in like a faucet," Grant-Forbes said in a phone interview from the Bahamas. "We were stunned."
As green, sewage-infested water rose around them, family members grabbed a hold of one another and pushed against the strong current to get out of the house. They made it to a bus that took them to a shelter, but within 10 minutes, it was practically underwater.
They made their way to Grant-Forbes' pastor's house, where several families were seeking shelter. That's when reality sunk in: They had lost everything.
"We escaped with just the clothes on our backs. We didn't even have on shoes," Grant-Forbes said. "We have nothing. Thank God we have our lives."
Meanwhile in Marsh Harbour, Abaco, Grant's brother and his family had checked into a shelter ahead of the storm, much to his siblings' relief. They figured they'd hear from him once the hurricane moved off the island, Grant said. But when they still weren't able to reach him by Sept. 4, they started panicking.
Grant reached out to everyone she knew in the Abaco area, posted photos on social media and added her brother's name to any databases she could find that tracked missing people. After a long, agonizing week, the family received word Saturday afternoon that he had been spotted and was safe.
"We feel like we were given a miracle, just how the situation turned out," Grant said. "It could have been completely different."
Watching her family go through such devastation has been difficult for Grant, who said she feels helpless so far away. She left the Bahamas to attend college in Houston in 1989 and then moved to the Chicago suburbs after graduation.
Members of her church have started collecting donations, and she's doing whatever she can to promote relief efforts in the suburbs. Grant fears the worst is yet to come for her family members and other residents who face rebuilding their lives.
"We're just heartbroken," Grant-Forbes said. "When you've lost everything, it's not about the things. It's about knowing that everything can be taken from you in just minutes."
How to donateAfter Hurricane Dorian slammed the northern islands of the Bahamas, organizations are accepting donations to help with relief efforts.
• The American Red Cross: Call 800-435-7669 or donate online at www.redcross.org/donate/hurricane-dorian-donations.html/.
• The Salvation Army: Call 800-725-2769 or donate online at give.helpsalvationarmy.org.
• Mercy Corps: Call 888-747-7440 or donate online at www.mercycorps.org/donate/send-emergency-aid-families-bahamas.
• UNICEF: Donate at donate.unicefusa.org/page/contribute/help-hurricane-dorian-relief.
• Grand Bahama Disaster Relief Foundation (established by the Grand Bahama Port Authority): www.gbdisasterrelief.org/donations/.