There are victims of Hurricane Dorian living in Southampton.
Rebecca Lightbourne, whose father is of Bahamian descent, was on the East End with her boyfriend Jeffrey Scanelli at the time the hurricane that killed more than 50 people hit land, but she’s no stranger to the devastation. In Great Guana Cay on the Abaco Islands of the Bahamas she owned a high-end women’s boutique, managed Dolphin Beach Resort and a private estate, and worked at her family-owned resort Flip Flops on the Beach.
In a matter of hours, they lost everything. None of the properties, including her home on the island, were hurricane insured. Her parents’ house in Elbow Cay, not even on the water, but at high elevation, vanished too.
“It had to have been a tornado that took it,” Lightbourne said. “Just obliterated. Gone. Honestly, I’m very, very lucky that I have started a life here in Southampton.”
Lightbourne, who is good friends with the owners of the legendary Nipper’s Beach Bar & Grill — the site where famed singer Justin Beiber and supermodel Hailey Baldwin celebrated their engagement in 2018 — said she was told of the wreckage when the pair visited the spot her shop once stood.
“They said my store is completely gone,” Lightbourne said. “There’s no sign that there was even a store there.”
But she’s most heartbroken for her parents, who always referred to their business as their “happy place.” “My father loved to get on his lawnmower and just ride around,” Lightbourne said.
Nipper’s owner, Johnnie Roberts, said it was the strongest hurricane they’ve seen to date. Dorian travelled at one mile per hour directly over Great Guana Cay, and stalled.
“We walk faster to give you an idea,” he wrote in a Facebook post. “So unbelievably powerful.”
Isabella Albury, a local away at school who’s known Lightbourne all her life, lost connection with those on the island.
“I can tell you that living it from far away was traumatic,” she said. “My sister and I had just left home a week before — we lost contact with our parents the day the storm hit. We did not hear from them again until four days later. Before we were actually able to contact our parents, we saw the images of destruction and the news of many deaths being reported. We were on edge for days until we were able to hear their voices.”
‘There’s Nothing Left’
A GoFundMe, along with several other fundraising efforts, has been formed to kickstart relief specifically for Great Guana Cay. Lightbourne is focused on sending supplies to the area, which she said needs ice and heavy machinery, like wood chippers, because the pressure-treated wood the buildings were made of cannot be burned.
While the power is out — lines running underwater from the main land at Marsh Harbor to Great Guana Cay being damaged — the islanders are turning to cisterns for water. A command center has also been set up, with some of the women on the island cooking three meals a day for those that remain.
“They are divvying out the supplies to the locals that are there,” Lightbourne said. “Just like every other island in Abaco there’s nothing left. It just looks like a bomb went off. It’s very overwhelming to even imagine starting from scratch.”
For the time being, her parent’s resort, which is being boarded up and emptied out to dry, will serve as shelter for those who need it, including workers aiding in the cleanup and rebuilding
Those coming to help have had to travel by helicopter or boat because Great Guana Cay does not have an airport. Nearby Treasure Cay does, though, where Scanelli had two homes he’s stayed at when visiting the islands for over 30 years. One had tremendous water and roof damage. The other, livable and with a generator, is where the couple will stay as soon as people are allowed back to do whatever they can to help.
“Right now, we’re in community mode,” Lightbourne said. “We’ve secured a job for a friend in Nassau. My boyfriend is sponsoring a family and helping them rebuild. If there’s people out there that can do that, it’s a blessing.”
She said the United States, because of the terrorist attacks September 11, also the day this year the Bahama government told reporters 2500 people have been registered as missing, knows more than anybody about tragedy.
“It’s not exactly the same by any means, but we’ve seen the same spirit of togetherness,” she said. “It humbles you. The amount of love and support is overwhelming.”
‘The Devastation Is Real’
Lightbourne’s friend Tom Wheeler, who also owns a home on Treasure Cay, said the quicker locals can get back in their homes, the faster the community can be reestablished.
“There’s a lot of suffering. We have to care about the Bohemian citizens. They have very little, and they’re warm, wonderful people,” he said, getting choked up. “We need to do what we can. It’s going to take $100,000,000 to do this.”
While he too was not present during the hurricane, Wheeler returned with seven firefighters to help open the airport and clear the streets. He helped nine locals off the island from the Treasure Cay clinic, including a two-week-old infant.
“The devastation is real,” he said. “It’s much easier to look at pictures than it is to be there and see it.”
Debra Stein, cantor for the Jewish Center of the Hamptons, who has vacationed on the Abaco Islands several months out of the year for nearly a dozen years, was overwhelmed hearing the news, and is also hoping to do whatever she can. Stein became good friends with Lightbourne since meeting her on Great Guana Cay.
“Her waterfront business literally got carried out to the ocean,” she said. “When I first heard the news, my mind immediately went to all of my friends. There’s no police, barely a car, so you really get to know everybody. They’ve seen hurricanes, but this was beyond anything they’ve ever seen. It’s just so unbelievably frightening.”
Lightbourne’s ex-husband Stephen Jenkins stayed through the storm to help. He was one of the most severely injured in Great Guana Cay. He was airlifted from Baker’s Bay to West Palm Beach, FL, where Lightbourne was born, to undergo surgery for nine broken ribs, for which he received titanium plates, and a collapsed lung.
“When the hurricane hit, I totally lost communication with everybody that was there,” Lightbourne said. “And when I spoke to Stephen, his only words to me were: ‘Guana Cay is finished. There’s nothing left.’”
ONE Bahamas Fund, a nonprofit that supports a wide range of immediate recovery needs and important long-term rebuilding initiatives has already surpassed $6 million. Donations can be made at www.onebahamasfund.org. Rotary International is also collecting money through its website and GoFundMe for the Disaster Network of Assistance Rotary Action Group. More information can be found online at www.rcen.org/page/hurricane-dorian.
Money is also being collected through a GoFundMe titled Hurricane Dorian Abaco Relief Guana Strong. It was started by Katie Hoog, whose fiancé Ricky Sands, a Great Guana Cay local, owns Ricky Sands Charters.