Jacksonville native Chris Appleby doesn’t think he was being reckless when he chose to stay in the Bahamas with Hurricane Dorian bearing down. He was reassured by two things: His Marsh Harbor Marina was “one of the most protected” in the islands, and his home was built to withstand winds higher than 157 mph.
But, when the storm passed, very little of either was left.
“My house ended up in the sea of Abaco. It’s completely gone.” Appleby said.
As for the marina:
“All my docks, 69 slips, not one board is left, it’s just completely wiped out,” he said.
What’s left behind in the Bahamas, Appleby said, is “mass chaos.”
Friends tell him bodies are still floating in the water and being gurneyed out.
“They’re shipping in air-conditioned containers to put the deceased inside of,” he said.
Even before he was rescued, he said, it smelled rancid, “just like death.”
Then there’s the looting, as reported to Appleby by his girlfriend and other friends who have stayed in the islands.
“People are raiding houses for food, over batteries. They’re killing people over generators,” Appleby said he’s been told.
And he experienced it for himself.
“When we were at the house, we had some looters show up. We ended up having to pull a gun on them to get them to leave,” he said.
So, it may be reasonable to ask why Appleby has headed back.
“They need help,” he said. "They need help bad.”
Appleby said all of this from the helm of a boat laden with supplies gathered at the Wicked Barley Brewing Company in Jacksonville.
He said the people of the Bahamas need everything. They have no shelter to get out of the sun, so chainsaws, tarps and tents are welcome. They need sustenance: water and food and portable grills to cook it on. And they need clothes, especially water boots that can help keep them out of the contaminated floodwaters.
Appleby’s brother Charlie Appleby Jr. and sister-in-law, Elona Appleby, have set up a GoFundMe for people who would prefer to donate money. They have a goal of $50,000.
While Appleby is focused on taking care of others after the storm, there were times during Dorian he wondered if he would die alone.
When the hurricane first arrived in the islands, Appleby was with friends at his fortified home. As the ferocious winds started to peel off the roof, they gathered in a small, enclosed room and waited. And waited. And waited.
He said the wind was so loud they couldn’t hear each other. As hour after hour passed, they began to look at each other with a clear question in their eyes: “what are we going to do?”
Appleby said he was clear they could not endure the storm much longer.
“We stayed up all night just trying to be with each other,” he said.
Daylight came, and the winds died down. Appleby was able to get his first look at what had happened to his beloved island, and he sobbed.
The ordeal was not quite over.
The group decided it would be safer to stay in two cars on the property than remain in what was left of the house. A neighbor and his dogs joined them. They left the cars running and kept the phones charged, hoping someone would come to the rescue.
Watch Appleby's full interview below. Story continues below video.
Eventually, the Coast Guard flew overhead and dropped a basket for two. One of Appleby’s friends, who has Parkinson’s disease, got one of those berths. A friend got the other.
Appleby’s conversation with the Coast Guard pilot was not reassuring.
“I went up and I was, like, ‘okay, so we’re out of here, right?” and he said, ‘no,’ that ‘we don’t have room for you.’ I was, like, ‘so you’re just going to leave me here?’ I asked him when he’s coming back, and he’s like, ‘I don’t know if we are coming back.’ He said, ‘there’s some people who need help, and you’re able to move, so, we have to get them first.’”
Then, two other friends decided to walk out with the dogs and try to find a private helicopter at the harbor.
That left Appleby alone. He said it “felt like days,” when, in reality, it was a matter of two-to-three hours. That’s when a private helicopter came for him, flown by someone named Ryan. Appleby said, just to see someone else’s face was “just incredible.”
“He got out of the helicopter and he asked what my name was and, when I gave it to him, he’s like ‘you just look like you need a hug’ and he extended his arms and gave me a hug. Gave me some water,” Appleby said.
Appleby said he can’t believe he’s alive.
“What we went through, I don’t wish on anybody,” he said.
Click here to donate to GoFundMe to help raise money to rebuild Abaco, Bahamas.