CAT ISLAND, Bahamas (AP) — Trees flattened by the thousands. Power lines strewn across the road. Part of the roof gone at a church, the prayer books drenched with rain. Homes flooded by storm surge, the furniture hauled out to the front yard to dry.
This narrow island in the southeastern Bahamas took the full force of Hurricane Irene at its most powerful, whipped by winds that exceeded 120 mph in a storm that people said was something they will never forget.
“Oh Lord, oh Lord, all I can tell you was it was the worst thing I've ever been through in my life,'' 46-year-old Lena Mae Wright said Friday as she cleared water-logged furniture and clothing out of her house. “It was horrible, horrible.”
Wright went to a friend's house for safety during the worst of the wind and rain. When she returned, she found the storm surge had torn off her boarded-over kitchen door and sent water three feet deep into her home. The carpets and couch appeared ruined. Her mattresses had been carried out to sea.
“I met the kitchen door in the road,” she said.
The exact extent of damage in the Bahamas was still being tallied but preliminary reports indicated hundreds of homes were damaged, said Capt. Stephen Russell, director of the country's National Emergency Management Agency. There were no deaths or major injuries.
New Providence, the most populated island in the Bahamas, was far enough from the eye of the storm that winds there did not exceed tropical storm force. But Cat Island and other small, sparsely populated parts of the island chain were chewed up.
“Devastating — in one word,” said Christopher Studds, who has lived on the island for a decade and previously served as its top administrative official. “I put my head out the door and the wind almost took my face off.”
Other islands that experienced extensive damage included Acklins and Crooked islands, both in the south, with populations around 400. Dozens of homes were destroyed or badly damaged, Russell said.
A full assessment was likely to take several days as government officials travel to affected islands and
communication is restored.
“One problem is that on a lot of islands we haven't heard anything and we don't know how well or how badly they are faring,” Darren Adler, chief of operations for the aid group Humanitarian Operations, said Friday.
The organization was distributing food with assistance of a U.S.-based group, Sea Air Land Security, which lent helicopters and a plane. “We have to make sure there are no families living rough and suffering,” Adler said.