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For This Bahamian Family, Vacation Turned Into a Nightmare With No Way To Get Back Home

Ariel and Delavoe Wilson crouched over their phones at a Dunkin Donuts in Fort Lauderdale. Over a WhatsApp group, they scrolled up and down, gazing at photos and videos of Hurricane Dorian’s devastation in the Bahamas. Images of familiar places that, oddly, no longer looked familiar.

“Just about everywhere is devastation,” said Delavoe. “My own house. My street. The airport. All the smaller places that are much closer to the sea.”

The brother and sister are from Freeport on the island of Grand Bahama, and now find themselves stranded in Fort Lauderdale, unable to get back home to be with family and uncertain about their immediate living arrangements. They returned to Port Everglades from a Caribbean cruise last Friday, and were supposed to fly back home to the Bahamas on Sunday. By that time, flights had been canceled.

The two watched in horror as Dorian ran atop their island home as a Category 5 hurricane and proceeded to sit there for more than a full day, at some points slowing to an imperceptible crawl forward. On Monday night the siblings slept at a Salvation Army shelter on Broward Boulevard.

“I’m a little bit — I don’t know, on the fence. I don’t know if I could say that I’m happy that I got stuck here because it’s so horrible back home, but still to be with my family, I think I’d feel better,” said Ariel. “I’d rather be stuck home than stuck in someone else’s country trying to find my way back.”

The family home in Freeport has been completely flooded and, as far as they know, is uninhabitable. But everyone in the family survived the storm unharmed. “They’re safe so that’s what matters,” said Ariel. Still, many friends are unaccounted for.

Commercial flights to Freeport have been canceled and there is no immediate time frame for when they might start operating again. Video during the storm showed the runway of Grand Bahama International Airport completely underwater, as the island experienced a storm surge of 18 to 23 feet above normal sea levels. Satellite images show the extent of flooding that took place across Grand Bahama.

The International Red Cross estimated on Tuesday that at least 13,000 homes in the Bahamas have been "severely damaged or destroyed." Across South Florida, relief efforts to help people of the Bahamas were underway.

On Tuesday afternoon, Ariel and Delavoe were looking for a hotel to stay in. 

“For now we have to pay for ourselves,” said Delavoe. “It’s just what you have to do. There’s no other way to go.”

The two had at least enough money to pay for a night or two. “I really don’t know what to say,” said Ariel. “Just waiting to hear back from home to see how long we expected to be here.”

She checked the tourist visa on her passport. She’s eligible to be in the U.S. at least until February of 2020. 

“But of course,” she said, “I don’t want to be here that long.”

Daniel Rivero is a reporter and producer for WLRN, covering Latino and criminal justice issues. Before joining the team, he was an investigative reporter and producer on the television series "The Naked Truth," and a digital reporter for Fusion.