Beaufort resident Kristin Williams can’t stop looking at images of the destruction of her former home. They’re on TV, all over social media. She scours news reports and checks in regularly with loved ones she left behind two years ago.
Horror stories from her native Bahamas keep coming.
Williams and her husband, Lloyd, lived in the Abaco Islands’ settlement of Marsh Harbour for 13 years. Now they’re working from the Lowcountry to help friends and family hurt by the storm.
The port city was destroyed by Hurricane Dorian earlier this month. The storm hovered over the area for 1 1/2 days, destroying homes, marinas, shopping centers and schools — places where many on nearby islands do their business. Although it’s the third-largest city in the Bahamas, Marsh Harbour, Williams said, is a tight-knit group of locals.
She contrasted it with Hilton Head Island, a resort area where people from outlying communities travel to work. Marsh Harbour is a commercial hub; people live there and travel to outlying islands to work at resorts.
“When you take tourists away, the people who live there year-round are a really small group of people,” said Williams, director of the Beaufort County Open Land Trust. “Every person I saw on CNN I knew; it was so surreal. And the devastation — there is nothing left in Marsh Harbour.”
Williams, whose organization oversees and advocates for land conservation efforts in Beaufort County, is accustomed to philanthropic campaigns. But her effort to help people in the Bahamas started with an impromptu introduction on the online fundraising platform GoFundMe and an email to about 50 acquaintances.
The Williamses have helped raise more than $30,000 to help people they know with relocation money or basic needs. She recommends that people who want to help more broadly consider donating to One Eleuthera Foundation, which is on the ground collecting money and supplies, or visiting the Bahamas and supporting the local economies, Williams said.
Because islands are spread out, only a couple of major areas — Great Abaco and Grand Bahama islands —were in the direct path of Dorian’s Category 5 winds.
She recounted a few of the horrors she knows about:
Williams’ cousin, Stephen Jenkins, was inside when his house was thrown through the air “like confetti,” she said. After spending two nights in his truck, he stopped a passerby for help and now is in the hospital with serious injuries.
High school orientation was held on the Friday before Labor Day. By the following week, the school was destroyed.
James Richard, principal of Forest Heights Academy, spent his last night in the area on top of his car with his gun. The next day he drove to the airport and began helping students find new schools, Williams said.
Williams, born and raised in Nassau until she was 13, left to attend boarding school in the United States. Later, she and her husband lived in Marsh Harbour before moving to Beaufort two years ago.
Their two children were born in the islands. Williams was director of Friends of the Environment, an education and conservation group in Marsh Harbour. The organization’s offices were destroyed, but the research center that began when Williams was there withstood the storm. Its 28 beds are being used for relief efforts, she said.
It’s clear the Bahamas are still the family’s home. The flag of the Bahamas is displayed proudly on their car and flies from their downtown Beaufort home.
The Williamses visited friends there this past summer. Kristin Williams’ parents live in Nassau and Eleuthera, in areas Dorian spared.
But the heart-wrenching stories continue to come from those who lost everything. ”I feel helpless,” Williams said. “I’ve never felt so helpless in my life.”