Step into the Bahamian town of High Rock and three things hit you immediately: Silence, a stench of death, and utter destruction left by Hurricane Dorian.
Virtually no one was coming down the road into this Grand Bahama island town Thursday afternoon. Aside from a crew looking for bodies, no team has arrived with food or other aid for those who remain in a community that usually has about 300 people.
That’s probably because Dorian has made High Rock — like many other towns outside the main city of Freeport — so hard to get to.
That means pictures and stories of devastation in communities like these are just beginning to emerge.
It normally takes an hour to drive from Freeport to High Rock on Grand Bahama’s southern coast. For days after Dorian, high water made getting there by road impossible.
On Thursday, a CNN crew arrived after hours of driving, dodging debris and driving through portions of roads that had washed away. At one point, the crew nearly turned back because water came halfway up the vehicle.
When the crew arrived, it found very little left of High Rock.
The obliterated health clinic is an unrecognizable heap of rubble, an overturned bed being one of the few clues of what used to be there.
Across the road, the pink-painted police station is torn open — its roof gone, one of the concrete walls collapsed. Slabs of the building are thrown about.
It’s clear the ocean surged into the building. Residents say a water stain on the station’s yellow walls show how high the storm surge was — nearly up to where the ceiling had been.
Every one of the homes in the town has been damaged or destroyed.
It’s not clear how many people died, or how many people fled before the storm. The residents who are left say they are still awaiting assistance.
Dorian came ashore beginning Saturday as a Category 5 storm, the strongest hurricane on record to hit the Bahamas. It wiped out whole neighborhoods on the northern islands of Grand Bahama and the Abacos, then lingered for days, pounding the same battered places again and again.
Before the storm, more than 70,000 of the Bahamas’ roughly 400,000 residents lived on the Grand Bahama and Abaco islands.
In Freeport, a city of about 43,000 people, life still isn’t close to normal, but signs of life slowly are returning — restaurants are opening; cruise ships are starting to come in; the airport is closed, but officials say it’s close to reopening.
Outside Freeport, damage and suffering in towns like High Rock are only just beginning to become understood.