Muntrella Woodard is desperate.
She can only communicate with her sister through occasional text messages. Even with that, she already can sense the futility in her sister’s cryptic words.
Muntrella’s family has water and food. What they lack is hope. Hurricane Dorian stole that. Her sister and four nieces survived Dorian’s fury and were moved from Abaco Island to a tent at Freeport. For now, all they can do is wait, not knowing what’s ahead.
“They lost everything,” Muntrella said. “There’s nothing left. They can’t go home because there’s nothing to go back to. It’s gone. What are they going to do now?”
Muntrella, a nurse in Green Cove Springs, moved from Nassau South Beach to the United States in 1988. She’s worked tirelessly since Dorian made landfall on Sept. 3 and unleashed, without prejudice, devastating Category 5 winds with gusts of 220 mph and a storm surge of 24 feet that lasted for two days.
The Bahamas never had a chance.
Muntrella nervously waited two days before getting a text message from her sister.
“I thought they were dead,” Muntrella said. “She said the wind was so hard it was white. You couldn’t see. She said everyone is in shock. It will take a long time to get over this. This will take more than therapy. Right now, nobody wants to be on the islands anymore.”
Muntrella wants to get her family out of the Bahamas. Answers have been fleeting, and the lack of information only adds to her anguish.
“I called the Bahamian Consulate and I got a recording that said it’s closed for Hurricane Dorian,” she said. “The hurricane is long gone. Why are they closed now?”
She’s also called U.S. Immigration and several hurricane relief organizations without success.
But the destruction – and hopelessness – remains in her native homeland.
The United Nations estimated the storm left 76,000 islanders homeless. Muntrella said her sister said there’s a strong stench of death.
“They’ll be fishing bodies out for a long time,” Muntrella said. “Two of my nieces are doctors. They said it’s really bad.”
Muntrella wants to get her family on U.S. soil. She’s frustrated she can’t find an easier, certainly more humane, way to end her family’s suffering. So far, calls are forwarded to answering machines or left unanswered.
Despite the catastrophic emergency, valid passports and travel visas still are required for Bahamians who use boats to find refuge in the United States, according to the Department of Homeland Security. And only a handful have access to an airplane.
With thousands seeking an escape, it could take weeks, maybe months, to sort through all the paperwork.
It’s time Muntrella said Bahamians don’t have.
“People are dying all around them,” she said. “They’ve been getting food and water, but they need so much more. I went through (Hurricane) Andrew (in 1992) and I had to live in a shelter. I understand what my family is going through. I know what it’s like to have nothing to go back to. I’m calling everyone. I’m so tired. I just want to help relieve their suffering.”
If she can get her family to Green Cove Springs, she knows there are enough support groups in the county to help.
“My family is living in a tent with hundreds of other people,” Muntrella said. “They are overcrowded and everyone’s getting desperate. I haven’t been able to talk with my sister. I can only text. I want to help so much, but I feel like I can’t do anything.”
Which only adds to Dorian’s path of destruction.