BELFAST, Maine — Larry Jones paced in his sunny Belfast driveway Thursday afternoon, next to boxes of medical supplies, tarps, batteries, solar charges, gloves, rat traps and more that are bound for a different world — a hurricane-ravaged island in The Bahamas.
When his wife, Sharon Jones, drove in with their pickup truck, they hurried to pack it. They had just a few minutes until he needed to hit the road to get to Florida in time to jump on a 50-foot catamaran that leaves early Saturday morning for Lubbers Quarters Cay.
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That’s the tiny island just east of Great Abaco where the Joneses have been visiting for 40 years. The area was pummeled for days by the
punishing winds, rains and floodwaters of Hurricane Dorian. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik
This week, as reports trickled in from Lubbers Quarters Cay, the Joneses learned that everyone who rode out the hurricane on the island are alive, though traumatized. They heard that their house is standing, though barely, with its roof and top floor apparently ripped off. And although they know that the island’s electricity is gone, its boats sunk, most of its homes destroyed and the harbor full of dangerous storm detritus, it’s where Larry Jones, a 67-year-old retired contractor, wants to be.
“It’s bleak. Very bleak,” Sharon Jones said of the destruction wrought by Dorian. “But the Bahamian people out there come together at a time like this, the way that Maine people do. It’s one reason we love our island so much. That’s why Larry is headed there. He’s a builder — he can help.”
Her husband and the handful of others who will board the catamaran in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, are trying to be ready for anything. They know their friends and neighbors on Lubbers Quarters are scrambling to find food, water and safe shelter, so they will pack the boat with as many supplies as they can carry. That includes generators, chainsaws to help open the roads, boxes of C-rations (military-style meals ready to eat), gasoline, diesel fuel, a water desalination system and anything else that might come in handy in a place that is just starting to take stock of what’s left after the hurricane.
Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik
Larry Jones does not know how long he will be down there. It could be two weeks or two months, and when asked if she would worry about him, Sharon Jones did not hesitate.
“Absolutely,” she said. “There’s so much you can get hurt on. They’re talking about trees down everywhere and sleeping on platforms. We’re right in hurricane season. But it has to be done for the island, and we need to go down and figure out if our own house is saveable. And if it needs to come down, we need to do that, too.”
Still, the couple was delighted to learn that the nine or so people who were on Lubbers Quarters during the hurricane, mostly native Bahamians who make a living through tourism and fishing, had all survived.
Friends on the island told them they were blasted with 185-mph winds for about 55 hours.
“They said it sounded like a freight train going right past your head for two and a half days,” Larry Jones said.
Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik
Post-hurricane life will pose huge challenges, according to the couple. The Abaco islands are in the northern part of the Bahamas and far from central services. The closest airport, on Great Abaco, was completely inundated by the storm and may remain closed until early December. Structures that made it through soon may start to suffer from water and mold issues. The power is not likely to be turned back on until February at the earliest, and although every tree was defoliated and the bright tropical birds flew away, the mosquitoes and rats are still there.
In short, the people who live on Lubbers Quarters and the other small cays nearby do not have a lot of options or aid right now.
“They are on the end to get help, to get aid of any kind,” Sharon Jones said .“People only can travel by boats, and the boats are all gone. The ferries are all gone. There’s nothing, and there’s no one that can help them.”
In the aftermath of the storm, there’s no place within 50 sea miles to buy things as small and necessary as a loaf of bread or a bottle of water, so Larry Jones is certain the supplies he and his friends are bringing will come in handy. He has received donations of cash and materials from Mainers and Belfast-area businesses, including Viking Lumber, Sherwin-Williams, Hammond Lumber and the Neighborhood Restaurant. As well, the First Church in Belfast is collecting financial donations that will be used to help with the rebuilding of Lubbers Quarters Cay (
to help the Bahamas more generally, try one of these agencies or organizations). Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik
“It’s going to be six months to a year before anybody gets back into a house, I’m guessing,” Larry Jones said. “If there are 1,000 houses on the islands around us, probably 950 of them need some major work. It’s going to take a long time.”
He and his wife shared a quick kiss and goodbye in their driveway as he got ready to head out. They may only be able to be in touch with each other once a week while he is on Lubbers Quarters, because of the disruption to cell phone service and the internet. That will be hard, Sharon Jones said.
“We’ve been married for 42 years, and we haven’t really spent any time apart. This is going to be a challenge,” she said. “But sometimes you don’t have a choice.”
Watch: Donald Trump gives Hurricane Dorian update