A man sees the unimaginable while watching Hurricane Dorian coverage on TV
Roman Sawyer, who lives in Florida, scoured television coverage of the storm, hoping against hope for good news -- and then he saw it.
No one was watching the first images coming out of the Abacos after Hurricane Dorian more closely than those who had loved ones on the islands. All communication had been cut off. Some of the lucky ones were able to spot who they were looking for on AccuWeather.
Roman Sawyer knew the Abaco Islands, knew the neighborhood around his family’s block – “That’s my home,” he said – but he couldn’t comprehend what he was seeing as he watched TV footage of Hurricane Dorian’s destruction in early September 2019.
“I know the landscape, I know the layout, I know where everything was,” Sawyer told AccuWeather about the islands in the northern Bahamas, “and I’m seeing all of these aerial pictures, and it’s like, ‘Where is this? This is not my home,'” he added, choking up.
Beverly Bethel’s last communication with her family, according to Sawyer, “was on Facebook saying, ‘Help, we need help!’”
Sawyer, who now lives in West Palm Beach, Florida, had the worst thoughts of his mom trying to survive Dorian, a Category 5 hurricane that hit in early September 2019 and proved to be the worst cyclone the islands had ever seen. “I envisioned it with her on the roof, I’ve envisioned it with her in the roof, I’ve envisioned it with her inside the house – and none of the scenarios play out with them living,” he said.
Then, a few days after Hurricane Dorian, Sawyer saw a video on the AccuWeather TV Network that made him break down. His mom was standing in front of the family's decimated house, trying to find the words for all that was lost.
Sawyer, however, rejoiced in what was found.
“I cried. I was just like, thank God,” Sawyer told AccuWeather when he saw the footage.
“It was a relief seeing her physically, visually seeing her with my eyes and not just having someone say, ‘Hey, she’s OK, she’s OK.’”
All Sawyer had heard about his mom were rumors until he saw her interviewed on AccuWeather. Bethel had been swept off the roof of her home in the storm surge and clung to the roof of a small car while being hit by debris until the eye of the storm came and she and other family members were able to swim to safety.
“Thank God that’s a little bit higher ground” near her home, Bethel told AccuWeather.
Bethel and her relatives were then evacuated from Abaco Island, and she and Sawyer were able to talk to each other since. Abaco was the hardest hit of the Bahama islands, with the storm killing 63 people and leaving thousands homeless.
She had initially planned to move off the island, once she got a new passport to replace the one she lost in the storm.
But now, more than two years later, Sawyer said his mother ended up staying on the island, deciding instead to rebuild, as he explained in a follow-up interview with AccuWeather in March 2022.
At first, she managed by living in a cluster of tents on the property where her house once stood, and then in March 2020 a sturdy dome unit was built to provide better safety and a little more comfort while her new house was being constructed. The one drawback was the lack of a bathroom, which wasn't finished due to COVID-19 lockdowns that went into effect in April of that year. She had to use a portable toilet that was set up nearby.
"My mother had a dome for a little while, but she started to rebuild, a little bit smaller than what she had before, but still on the same piece of land, still her property," Sawyer said.
Bethel was able to move into her new permanent home, an efficiency apartment, on Dec. 18, 2021, just in time for the holidays.
Friends, family and others donated nearly $6,000 to a Facebook fundraiser her son had started to help with expenses. And the American Red Cross donated some money so she could buy a small solar power unit.
Looking back, Bethel said 2020 "was a very hard year" for her. She had no job and had to "solely" depend on the nonprofit organization World Central Kitchen for two hot meals a day. Then, when that group left the island, she started getting a supply of canned food once a week from another organization that was distributing items.
"I lived off of canned tuna and corn beef for six months unless I got the odd job to haul freight for someone, then I could buy fruits and vegetables as needed, (but) not in any abundance," she said.
She was glad to be able to finally reunite with her son in Florida in June 2020, but the visit was bittersweet, having made the trip because of her father's funeral.
Bethel said her situation back on the island improved in 2021. "I was able to buy a stove and started to bake bread and pizzas to sell."
A lot of residents, she noted, still aren't back on the island. Many businesses haven't reopened and the local high school remains shuttered.
"I think it will be another three years before we see real improvements and life possibly is back to normal," she said.
"All in all," Sawyer said, his mother is "doing much better" and although it's been more than two years since Dorian, he thinks it's going to take even more time to recover emotionally.
"Obviously, there’s still the mental scars" from the devastating event, "but these are things that will be hopefully better with time," he added.
For Sawyer, the fact that his mother made it through the hurricane is what matters most.
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