LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
People in the Bahamas are assessing the damage from Hurricane Dorian and looking for those they haven't heard from since the storm hit. The official death toll has now risen above 40, and it is expected to go much higher. Communications remain spotty, and with residents fleeing Abaco Island, many people are unaccounted for. As survivors check on churches, businesses and workplaces, what they find is often grim.
NPR's Jason Beaubien follows one man and his son as they returned to Marsh Harbour.
JASON BEAUBIEN, BYLINE: Tim Sands and his 19-year-old son Branden are heading from their home in Cherokee to Marsh Harbour for the first time since Dorian subsided. Cherokee is south of Marsh Harbour. It was hit by Dorian. A few people lost some shingles off their roofs. Some trees went down. But Cherokee escaped significant damage.
Tim is driving a Toyota pickup from a friend who left after Dorian hit and was planning to just abandon the vehicle at an airstrip on the southern tip of the island.
TIM SANDS: He was going to drive this down and just leave it. I was like, no, vehicles are a little too valuable at the moment.
BEAUBIEN: And it isn't the only car he's been given by people who are fleeing any way they can.
SANDS: Actually, I've got the keys for a couple of vehicles that he was looking after for people that are in good shape, which is all family. They've all pretty much said, I'm gone. I don't think that they want to come back, my wife's aunt included, which is the vehicle up on the hill here.
BEAUBIEN: His wife's aunt's red pickup is one of the numerous things and people Tim has come into Marsh Harbour to check on. The truck is fine. Sands and his family have lived in the Bahamas for generations, but his wife's aunt's family aren't planning to come back to Abaco any time soon. So Tim and Branden are grabbing the propane tanks from their house.
SANDS: Guess what, Branden? I got a simpler solution. You got any big cutters? Let's just cut the tubing.
BEAUBIEN: Marsh Harbour is the largest town on Abaco Island, but it is now mostly destroyed. At its peak, Dorian pounded this area with winds in excess of 200 miles per hour. Businesses were obliterated. Shops were turned into piles of concrete and twisted steel girders. There's nowhere for Tim to buy propane or much else anymore on this island, so his wife's aunt told him to take whatever he needs from their abandoned house.
A bit further inland, Tim stops by Carmen Albury's home to ask if she's seen some of his relatives who live in the neighborhood.
CARMEN ALBURY: Yes.
SANDS: I was looking for Lermin and Kim and Alansander (ph). I was passing...
ALBURY: I don't know where they are.
SANDS: They're all right? Everything's...
ALBURY: I - they were. We haven't seen them today.
BEAUBIEN: Albury is in the middle of packing up her own house, which she built just after Hurricane Floyd hit in 1999. Her house didn't flood during Dorian, but it shook. It shook hard and suffered wind damage.
ALBURY: I finally got it paid off, and now we're leaving with a suitcase apiece, a backpack apiece and our pets.
BEAUBIEN: And how long, do you think, before you'll be able to come back?
ALBURY: I don't ever want to come back here. I can't. I drove through town, and what I saw - I can't. Even if I end up somewhere in the path of things like this in the future, I'm never riding out a storm again.
BEAUBIEN: She says she's hoping to start a new life in Florida. She has a teenage son who is a U.S. citizen. She hopes that that will help her get residency. But for now, she's heading - in her words - to anywhere but here.
ALBURY: I have teaching qualifications. I can teach. I'll do anything at this point (laughter).
BEAUBIEN: Before Dorian, Tim was the manager of Bellevue Business Depot, a store that carried office supplies, school notebooks, printer ink, things like that. In addition to relatives, he's worried about several of the staff from the store who he hasn't been able to contact. He's hoping to track them down, and he's - also wants to check on the store itself. As he drives towards the store, the wreckage on either side of the road in Marsh Harbour gets progressively worse.
SANDS: I can't do this. Oh, my God. I don't recognize it.
BEAUBIEN: Cars, boats and shipping containers are strewn in the muddy street.
SANDS: This is one of the two hardware stores - or was.
BRANDEN: See Chris's house?
SANDS: Oh, yep. That's our pastor's house there. He lost everything. That's my store.
BEAUBIEN: That's your store there?
The scene inside the store is even worse. Most of the shelves are tipped over. Notebooks and backpacks and reams of waterlogged paper are strewn on the floor. Looters have smashed the cabinets behind the counter and taken the batteries and flash drives. Desks and filing cabinets are overturned.
SANDS: I've been through a lot of hurricanes - not like this.
BEAUBIEN: A waterline inches from the ceiling shows that more than 9 feet of water flowed through his store. This shop was also damaged by hurricanes in 2004, but he says the destruction from Dorian was different.
SANDS: After Frances and Jeanne, it was really just water. It wasn't like this. But we trashed every piece of stock. I had a dump truck - took it all to the dump. But there's no dock. There's no bank. There are no dump trucks. I don't even know where to begin.
BEAUBIEN: Before Hurricane Dorian, there were roughly 17,000 people on all of Abaco. Marsh Harbour is the commercial hub for the island, the only place with hardware stores and banks and supermarkets. Tim Sands has been running this business supply store for so long that he calls it my store, even though he doesn't own it.
SANDS: Most people assume that it's my store, but it's not my store. It's just - it's my livelihood. And 20 years - look like I'm out of a job.
BEAUBIEN: Driving out of Marsh Harbour, Sands starts calculating how he's going to be able to survive; pay his bills; with most of the gas stations flattened, get gas for his cars; support his family in a place where so much is destroyed. The good news is that he eventually connected with all of his employees. Many of his neighbors are packing up and getting out if they can. But at least for now, Sands plans to stay and try to figure out how to make things work in the wake of one of the most powerful hurricanes ever to make land.
Jason Beaubien, NPR News, Abaco Island, Bahamas.
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