Seeing a Jet Ski zip through water is supposed to be a normal sight for Alex Thompson.
Not this week.
Thompson, a native Bahamian who plays for his country’s national soccer team, saw many of his neighbors riding them Monday through flooded streets in Nassau, where Hurricane Dorian arrived Sunday as part of a significant deluge on the archipelagic state generally known for its tropical climate and relaxing resorts.
Nassau, where Thompson lives in a one-bedroom home, has flooding and phone lines are down, though he is safe and has access to food, water and other resources. But Thompson has yet to learn the whereabouts of all his family members across the country. He’s been getting updates online about the scenes elsewhere and is worried that other Bahamians might not be so lucky.
“We are experiencing some flooding [in Nassau], but nothing too extreme,” Thompson told Pro Soccer USA via WhatsApp on Monday evening. “Two of our northwestern islands – Grand Bahama and Abaco – are being absolutely destroyed. We’ve never had a storm like this hit our country.”
“Abaco is absolutely flattened; it looks like a bomb went off there. In the area of Marsh Harbor, homes have been reduced to rocks, sticks, and stones. … Some areas the water is up to 12 to 15 feet, with the storm surge going up to 23 feet, and there are videos of people who live in two-story homes and the water has submerged their first floor and is coming up the staircase. Others are trapped in their attics and are awaiting rescue.”
Dorian, still a swirling mammoth that is expected to move north parallel with Florida’s east coast on Tuesday, killed five people in the Bahamas, though Bahamian Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said Monday the death toll is expected to rise.
“We won’t really know the actual state of the islands until Thursday or Friday, when most of the water drains out or the tides clear,” added Thompson, 29, who has been training with the Bahamas national team all summer for a Concacaf Nations League Group C game against Bonaire, which is supposed to take place on Monday, Sept. 9, in Nassau.
For now, the game is still on, though what happens next week is currently of little concern to the players, some of whom, like many Bahamians, have lost their family, friends, homes and possessions in the storm.
“Right now, we’re just focused on trying to help our brothers and sisters,” Happy Hall, a 31-year-old player-coach who is assisting in relief efforts, told Pro Soccer USA via WhatsApp from Nassau on Tuesday morning. “It’s tough, though. I’ve been in contact with my coaches, and my teammates, and we think if there is a game next week, it can be an opportunity to bring the country together.”
The Bahamas players and coaches – who are based on the islands, in universities across America, or in soccer academies in the United Kingdom – are accounted for and safe. Hall, who drove by the team’s flooded training facilities on Monday, said there has been talking about resuming training as soon as today.
But Hall and others have described a hectic scene.
“We have people in need,” Hall said. “There is flooding and some people can see fish swimming just outside the windows of their homes. Some of my teammates have spent the past two days searching online for relatives and friends who have gone missing.”
Hall is helping coordinate emergency relief through a community center in New Providence with other private sector workers in Nassau. He said they’ve arranged for supply ships to help re-stock the area and for a 20-person recovery team to come survey the places with the worst flooding and assess the damage.
Back in the U.S., Jaelin Williams, a Bahamian defender currently enrolled at Fisk University in Nashville, has been getting updates from his teammates and family through WhatsApp.
Williams has been capped once by the Bahamas and trained there last summer, but he is currently recovering from a knee injury. Though he was born in Brunswick, Georgia, he is Bahamian on his mother’s side and has family there he hopes is safe in the wake of the hurricane.
“I have too much family there to count,” Williams, 21, told Pro Soccer USA. “Cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents and their siblings. I’ve heard a little bit, but not a whole lot. Right now on Abaco, my family has quite a few people missing, we’re waiting to hear back from them, and I’ve heard about houses being destroyed and there being a lot of homeless right now trying to find refuge somewhere and not able to evacuate the islands.”
Now Williams’ teammates are on the ground and trying to get help to those who need it, which is where most of the focus will be for the time being, regardless of whether the Sept. 9 match against Bonaire happens or not.
The Bahamas may be ranked last in Concacaf and second to last in the world according to FIFA’s most recent rankings, but the players already know they’ll have more on the line than usual the next time they take the field.
“Hopefully, we can use the match as motivation,” Thompson said. “Not only represent our island, but also Freeport and Abaco. I mean, the best outcome of the game, despite a win or a loss, would be to create awareness that can bring in support for those who are in need in the country.
“That would be the biggest thing. Hopefully we can create a following from that and help our brothers and sisters in the other islands.”