Hurricane Dorian survivor films storm's terrifying wrath in Bahamas as it pounds against his home
John Slack lives in the Bahamas and rode out Hurricane Dorian on Treasure Cay. Here are some scenes of the house where he was sheltered being dismantled. John Slack, Special to FLORIDA TODAY
MELBOURNE, Fla. — As Hurricane Dorian approached Treasure Cay on Great Abaco Island in the Bahamas, John Slack thought better of staying in his house in Coopers Town.
Slack’s home is on the ocean on the east side of the island. He had ridden out storms there before, but after staying put for Hurricane Sandy in 2012, he knew staying for Dorian would be a bad idea.
“After Sandy, I swore we would never ride out a storm there again,” Slack said. “It was too frightening, even at 110 mph winds.”
So Slack, a former TODAY newspaper photographer who notably took the front page picture of the Apollo 11 liftoff in 1969, decided he and his wife would go farther south on the island to ride out the storm at a friend’s house. Their friend lives on a marina near Treasure Cay Beach Marina and Golf Resort.
The house faces north and was not directly on the ocean, so Slack thought they’d do better in a bigger, more established home than their stilted house in Coopers Town.
‘Please pray for us’: Hurricane Dorian survivors show the Bahamas in ruins
With what happened over the next two days, it might not have mattered where Slack and his friends chose to ride out Dorian.
“We started watching the news Sunday (Sept. 1) and it progressively got worse,” Slack said. “We saw what was happening in Marsh Harbor about 25 miles away, we saw winds get to 165 mph, then 185.”
The house where Slack hunkered down contained nine people, including a 4-year-old boy and a man with pancreatic cancer. It started to break down as the storm got worse. The marina’s waters continued to rise until the water breached the house. It only got worse from there.
“A window blew out and all hell broke loose,” Slack said. “It was around 3:30 p.m., the eye was probably 30 to 40 minutes away. There was nothing we could do but weather it out. In a matter of minutes, waves that had been crashing into the doors flooded the house to waist high or higher.”
One of Slack’s shelter mates had the idea to try and make it to a friend’s house on the other side of the marina during the period the eye passed over.
Seven adults, one child and three dogs piled into a GMC Terrain SUV to attempt an escape, but they didn’t get far before they realized the roads were nearly impassable. Three of the people exited the car and fought the winds to get back to the battered house.
Slack, his wife Tichka, the man with cancer, and that man’s wife and son stayed in the car and they persisted on. They only progressed a half mile farther before the car got stuck in the mud. That’s when they realized they were going to have to survive Dorian inside the vehicle.
Just moments later, the worst of the storm hit.
“Within about a minute, a 2×6 board came through the window right where I was sitting,” Slack said. “I was in the rear seat on the passenger side. When it shattered the window, it deployed the air bags.
“This turned out to be a fortunate thing because airbags are made of material that is somewhat water repellent. I was able to grab onto it and put it against the window to keep the driving wind from us. We didn’t know if any more projectiles were coming.
“For the next hour to hour-and-a-half, the car vibrated and you’d get 200 mph gusts and rock the car and we were so, so fearful it would start rolling the car. We found out the next morning that about 100 yards ahead of us, the wind caught a car and rolled it 100 yards to the edge of a canal. We were lucky being buried in the mud. That’s the only thing that saved us from being rolled over multiple times.”
For nearly 17 hours, Slack and the others survived in that vehicle.
They had no idea Dorian had stalled over the island.
“I thought for sure the next morning the sun would come out and the sky would be clear, but that was not the case,” Slack said.
Despite winds still blowing at what Slack estimated to be Category 1 or 2 speeds, the group trudged the half mile back to the house where they had started. It was basically destroyed, yet it was still a better option than the SUV with the blown-out window.
After the brunt of the storm had passed and the water had receded from the house, Slack was able to contact a friend using a satellite phone in the house.
That friend, Peter Whittington, told Slack to hang tight, he was going to fly in on a private jet and get him and his friends. However, Slack was not able to reach Whittington on his first attempt Thursday because the Jeep they had blew out two tires.
The next morning, Slack, his wife and dogs made it to the airport in hopes Whittington would get them out.
“It was a chaotic scene at the airport,” Slack said. “Thousands, mostly Bahamians, were trying to get out. A couple of large planes brought in by the government were taking people to Nassau. There must have been 50 to 60 flights. Peter and his wife, Julie, flew in with supplies and got us out of there. They saved our lives and probably 11 others on five or six flights.”
After they flew out of the airport, they did a pass by of Slack’s home in Coopers Town, a property they have owned for 45 years. He said the structures were still standing, but he could see a hole in the roof.
Slack and his wife have been living half of their year in the Bahamas and the other half in Orlando for years. Now, it seems as though their Orlando residence might become their full-time home for some time to come.
Slack has friends who have stayed behind on Great Abaco, and while he’s trying to get updates on his property, he doesn’t plan to go back anytime soon.
He said it could be a year before power is restored to the island, and it’s just not a good situation right now.
“There’s no reason to go until some semblance of order and safety are restored,” Slack said. “We just feel blessed to be alive and are so thankful to be here after this life-altering experience.”
Follow Tim Walters on Twitter: @twaltersinforms
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