After spending nearly two weeks helping make hurricane-battered houses watertight on Lubbers Quarters Cay in the Bahamas, Larry Jones came home weighing 10 pounds less and with burns on both knees from kneeling for days on metal roofs in the hot sun.
The retired Belfast contractor knew he and the five men he traveled there with had just scratched the surface of an overwhelming task. But he also left with the satisfaction of having done a hard job well.
“All the pictures you’ve seen, it was probably twice as bad as that,” he said. “There are maybe 45 houses on that end of the island, and I’m guessing a number of them are going to be teardowns. But we got 11 of them watertight before we left.”
He and his wife, Sharon Jones, own a home on Lubbers Quarters, a tiny island east of Great Abaco where they have been visiting for 40 years. When the island was pummeled by the punishing winds, rains and floodwaters of Hurricane Dorian, a Category 5 hurricane, the couple wanted to help.
Last month, the 68-year-old loaded up his pickup truck with medical supplies, batteries, solar chargers and more. He intended to speed down to Florida to catch a ride on a 50-foot catamaran that was headed to the Bahamas.
A hard journey
But as it turns out, it’s difficult to get to an island that has just gone through a hurricane. He was almost in South Carolina when they learned that insurance on the catamaran was canceled for fear of piracy and looters.
The men scrambled to find another way to Lubbers Quarters. After a four-day delay, they were able to charter a plane out of Florida that would land on Eleuthera, an island about 70 miles southeast of their destination.
They also could only take 1,500 pounds of gear, so they needed to downsize, setting the rest aside to be shipped to the island at a later date. Once on Eleuthera, they hired a truck to bring them and their gear to the northern tip of the island.
They took a public ferry to the island of Spanish Wells, where a lobsterman with a 34-foot boat agreed to take them the rest of the way.
It was a long trip across open ocean, about 70 miles, and they were beset by bad weather, which caused delays.
After five days of waiting, the captain called them and said it was time. The trip was scary, with 12-foot seas that made Larry Jones wonder if they would make it.
But finally, they did.
Before Dorian, Lubbers Quarters was verdant and beautiful, full of trees, flowers and tropical birds.
But the storm changed everything.
High winds stripped the leaves off the trees and blew away the birds, leaving only skeletal forests behind. Houses were destroyed, boats were tossed around like toys and the people who had ridden the storm out were traumatized.
All the islanders had survived, which was not the case for many in the Bahamas. An Abaco Island laborer they hired had a harrowing tale.
“He was on the roof of his house, and thought he was safe until the water kept climbing and climbing and climbing,” Larry Jones said. “Finally, he had to jump off the roof and into a tree. He thought he was going to die, that this was the end of it.”
The man survived, but life after the hurricane remains difficult for many in the Bahamas, which suffered an estimated $7 billion in damage. Hundreds remain missing, with the official death toll at 61, more than a month after the storm.
“People are separated from their families,” Sharon Jones said. “They’ve got to put their kids into school, to have some kind of normalcy. And they can’t stay there — there’s no work for them there, and if they’re in the States, they can’t work. They’re in a really awful predicament.”
As for the condition of their own house, Larry Jones was succinct.
“It’s a mess,” he said.
He thinks at least 3 feet of water poured into the house from a hole ripped in the roof, and amid all the other destruction a wall was pierced by a lightning rod from his neighbor’s home, about 200 yards away.
“The power of the storm is nuts,” he said.
Glimpses of green
He and his friends stayed at two houses that weren’t too badly damaged, rose at 5 a.m. to eat a couple of granola bars, then headed to work.
“Another guy and I were the only two there who had any carpentry skills and weren’t scared of heights, so we spent all 12 days up on the roofs,” he said. “I burned both my knees on the metal roofs.”
The others helped clear roads for the islanders and used desalinators they had brought to make a supply of freshwater for drinking, cooking and bathing. During the hottest hours, they toiled inside houses, lugging ruined furniture, cabinets and appliances outside.
They all lost weight from their limited diet and from working in extreme temperatures. They were exhausted and decided it was time to come home.
“It was pretty rough work,” Larry Jones said. “I’m getting too old to climb around on a roof.”
He and Sharon are planning another trip to Lubbers Quarters in November. They want to thank the Mainers who gave money to help them purchase necessary supplies for the island.
“We were really touched by their generosity,” Sharon Jones said.
Because of a miscommunication, they don’t know the names of the donors yet but are working on that.
Larry Jones said there is a hopeful sign for the future of Lubbers Quarters. When he was leaving the island, he saw tinges of green here and there on the dead-looking trees.
“It’s starting to come back,” he said.