When Denny Denham left for a tuna fishing trip in the Bahamas two weeks ago, he knew it was a risky season to travel.

“I think when you own a place in the Bahamas, in September and October, you are fully aware hurricanes are going to happen,” Denham, 67, said in a telephone interview from his home in Gray.

But Denham couldn’t have predicted the massive, violent storm that smashed through parts of the island nation last week, leaving a trail of devastation in its wake.

Denny Denham, back at his home in Gray on Sunday, displays a photo showing the effects of Hurricane Dorian’s fierce winds that he shot from his condo in Freeport, Bahamas, during the recent hurricane. Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Denham said Saturday of Hurricane Dorian.

Shortly after Denham and a friend got to their homes on Grand Bahama a couple of weeks ago, they started hearing about a weather system brewing off the coast of Africa. As the days went by it intensified, first to a tropical storm, then a hurricane. Then a really big hurricane, headed straight for his home in Freeport, the main city on the island.

“The next thing you know it was going to be a Category 1, then two, three, four. Then all hell broke loose,” he said.

Instead of leaving, Denham and his friend stayed put, so they could assess any damage and clean up after the storm. They filled up their cars with gas and primed electricity generators.

Denham has been coming to the Bahamas for 18 years and bought a condo on Grand Bahama a couple of years ago. His place had reinforced windows built to withstand 180 mph winds and he wasn’t too worried about the storm surge, but he wasn’t sure what to expect.

“This is my first rodeo. I’ve never ridden out a hurricane,” Denham said.

The intensity of the storm was shocking. Winds and rain started picking up a week ago Saturday and the tempest grew in intensity, lashing his home through Monday. All Denham could do was hunker down and wait it out, listening to the rattling metal roof and feeling the walls vibrate with Dorian’s fury.

The worst part was not knowing what was going on, Denham said.

“You’d hear it was sitting still, moving south, north, it was stagnating – it was very, very nerve-wracking,” he said.

An airplane that was flung across an airfield and road near Denny Denham’s condo in Freeport, Bahamas. Photo courtesy of Denny Denham

When the storm finally subsided, he ventured outside. His home was fine and the immediate neighborhood was damaged, but not destroyed. As he and his friend drove farther, they saw evidence of the storm’s impact: tree trunks snapped in half, flooding, roofs and walls torn apart. The airport was destroyed. Small airplanes were broken and flung across the airfield and road.

At points, Denham could see where the storm surge had carried power lines and debris to the tops of trees, sometimes 25 feet off the ground.

“The damage is just awe-inspiring, it is just crazy,” he said.

Even though the island was cut off and he wasn’t sure how he’d get home, Denham didn’t sit on his hands. He’d already told his neighbor, a member of the local Rotary Club, that he was ready to help out in any way he could in the hurricane’s aftermath.

For the rest of the week, Denham helped distribute water from the island’s desalination plant. He and his friend spent their own money to fill pickup trucks with gas to deliver water throughout the island. And he drove around in his eight-seat van, picking up people from hard-hit areas and bringing them to safe parts and reuniting them with family.

On one of those trips, he met a family of six that escaped their flooding home on the east side of the island by cutting a hole in the ceiling and sheltering in the attic. The family lost everything.

“There they were, a family of six with a little carry-on suitcase – that is all they have left from the storm,” Denham said. “That was tough to see.”

Even the destruction in hard-hit parts of Grand Bahama pales in comparison to the devastation on Abaco, just to the east. The destruction there was total, with 44 people killed as of Sunday, and many more believed dead. Reports of looting have come from there as well. Denham said he didn’t see anything like that on Grand Bahama.

After a little less than a week, he was able to get a seat on a ferry off the island and a plane to Florida, then Maine, getting back to his home Saturday afternoon.

The experience hasn’t dulled Denham’s love for the Bahamas and he’s convinced that people will recover. About three years ago, parts of the Bahamas were devastated by Hurricane Matthew, and they’ve since bounced back, he said.

“They will absolutely rebuild – they are resilient people. This happens,” Denham said.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.