Amid the destruction Hurricane Dorian brought down upon Great Abaco in the Bahamas this week, Brian Symonette lost his shoes. As he’s traveled around the island in Dorian’s aftermath to get supplies and care for his family, he’s been forced to walk over the feces and debris-strewn ground barefoot. His feet are gashed and his toenails are falling off, he says, but the 34-year-old crab fishing business owner knows he’s been relatively lucky.
“I’ve seen dead bodies. I’ve seen bodies of people crushed by debris, hanging out [of] windows. It’s not good,” Symonette tells TIME.
“I’ve seen seven dead bodies under a [shipping] container… It looks to me like the 40-ft container flew up and crushed all of them at the same time. The storm was so intense that it picked those things up like paper and flew them around,” Symonette says. “You can’t imagine a 40-ft container coming down on you and pinning you down.”
Symonette’s girlfriend, 23-year-old Dayna Hill, says her grandfather was killed by falling debris when he stepped outside during the storm. “He was trying to get out of the house when the house collapsed. First he got pinned in his truck, and once his son was able to get him out of the truck, he was struck by a heavy object that cracked his skull,” Symonette explains.
Hill is four months pregnant and is desperate to get an ultrasound; she and Symonette are afraid that all the stress will harm their unborn child.
Abaco, the chain of islands the couple calls home, is a community of about 17,000 people best known for its boat-building and tourism. But since the Category 5 storm smashed through the islands on Sunday, it seems like they are in the midst of an “apocalypse,” Symonette tells TIME.
The 185 mph winds and rapid flooding have destroyed houses, drowned people and animals and, in the aftermath, left residents looting stores in desperation. Symonette says that the island has endured many hurricanes, but nothing like this in his lifetime.
The Bahamian government has announced that 43 people have been confirmed dead, but Hill and Symonette agree with the Prime Minister’s warning that there could be more. CNN has reported that hundreds of people are still missing, and the government has brought in “more body bags and coolers.”
Symonette says that the island is running out of food, water and fuel and that even people whose houses survived the storm will soon have to leave. Many people do not have access to adequate food or water, and limited sanitation is operating on the island. The storm also left behind pools of water in the remains of destroyed buildings, creating nurseries for mosquitos throughout the island.
“Everybody kind of lost their minds,” Symonette says. “The tune of everyone is, ‘I want to wake up from this nightmare.’”
“All the banks are gone, all the grocery stores are gone. I haven’t spent money in six days. It’s just been trade — ‘O.K., you have gas, I have a truck. You have food, I have somewhere to stay,’” Symonette says. “The evacuation planes are charging $200 a person. A lot of people left their houses with just clothes on. With the Bahamian government, there’s a lot of frustration now, because people are saying we don’t have anything [and] we need to be evacuated.
Symonette has also seen people walking around carrying firearms and breaking into stores. The local gas station and two hardware stores — which sold guns — have been looted, he says.
Although many people are trying desperately to leave the islands, others are determined to stay, Symonette says. The storm decimated a settlement of makeshift shelters built by Great Abaco’s longtime Haitian community. As some of the Haitians are not documented immigrants, they have begun to take shelter inside abandoned houses.
“If they go to Nassau, [they think] they’re going to be put in a detention center because a lot of them don’t have papers,” Symonette says. (The Bahamas apprehended or helped to apprehend 1,172 Haitians in 2018, according to the Royal Bahamas Defense Force.)
Symonette is planning to travel to Nassau in a small fishing boat on Saturday, now that he knows his loved ones are safe. He’s put each on a plane off the island, one at at time