‘They lost everything’: REALTORS® come together to raise money for Hurricane Dorian relief efforts

Leanne Johnny knows what it’s like to witness rain falling so hard you can’t see out the window, or to live through winds so powerful they rip off entire roofs as if they were muffin tops.

The REALTOR® and salesperson from Hamilton, Ontario, lived in the Bahamas for Hurricane Floyd—a Category 5 hurricane that caused $6.5 billion in damages in 1999—so news of Hurricane Dorian’s path of destruction struck a chord with her.

“Floyd was supposed to be the worst storm we’ve ever had, but it’s just nothing in comparison to Dorian. Winds that strong are beyond what anybody can comprehend without having gone through it,” she says. “It’s like being in a movie. People have to huddle together in their homes. There are tornadoes and storm surges so high you don’t know where the ocean begins and ends, and that’s not even taking into account the months—maybe years—of cleanup ahead.”

Johnny was forced to relive her traumatic experience 20 years later through her sister’s first-hand experience with the Category-5 Dorian. Her sister’s family lives in a house in a neighbourhood on Great Guana Cay. It’s a 20-minute boat ride from Marsh Harbour, a small town in the Bahamas that received catastrophic damage with more than half of its homes damaged. It was a scene so horrific, ABC News called it “pure hell” and one local resident told the Washington Post one week after the hurricane ripped through that the “stench of death is so bad.”

“(My sister’s family) lost everything, and yet they are still considering themselves the lucky ones,” Johnny says, adding they were lucky enough to have hurricane insurance. According to American risk modeling company AIR Worldwide, less than a third of homes on the Bahamas’ Great Abaco island have insurance.

“During the first part of the hurricane, there were only four people in the house. By the end, they crammed 22 people in the lower level of their home—these people had already been flushed from their homes and had nowhere to go.”

Johnny said her nephew’s 17-year-old best friend survived by holding onto a tree with his mother for five and a half hours, in fear of getting swept away with the raging waters.

Again, Johnny reiterates, they were still the lucky ones.

Nearly three months after Dorian, the island nation is in ruins, thousands of people are without homes and the rebuilding has only just started. It’s a process the locals expect to take years.

That’s why Johnny said she was heartened to see the Canadian REALTOR® community come together and donate to the Canadian Red Cross through the REALTORS Care® Hurricane Dorian Appeal. Within weeks, more than $22,500 was raised for recovery efforts and to help to people in affected areas.

“I think it’s amazing and I’m really proud of our community for stepping up and doing something for a part of the world that’s so far away from us,” Johnny says. “The Bahamian people are very special, and I know any help that’s provided by the REALTORS® of Canada is going to be gratefully received.”

The appeal ran for five weeks and reached REALTORS® from coast-to-coast-to-coast.

Johnny has made it her mission to spearhead her own relief efforts, such as organizing helicopters to take people off the unhabitable island.

“I heard people asking, ‘Why don’t they just leave?’ and it’s not that simple,” she says, mentioning how the runway to Marsh Harbour’s airport was submerged under water. “Well, how are they supposed to get off the island? How do you move 70,000 people out of harm’s way? You can’t fly out; you can’t get off by boat. They were just left there to fend for themselves.”

Through contacts she’s maintained since living in the Bahamas in the 1990s, Johnny was able to secure a helicopter pilot to help evacuate those with extreme needs.

Like her friend who had nine broken ribs, a punctured lung and needed surgery to repair her injuries. Or the pregnant woman who was tracked down after a brief, broken-up satellite phone conversation.

“It was very frustrating because half the time you’d arrange to rescue one person, find out where they are, and would end up rescuing someone else since you didn’t hear from the original person again.”

And even though the immediate need for help is over, rebuilding efforts seem like they are never-ending.

If you’re looking for ways to continue helping, Johnny says her network is vast and can help direct people to the right organizations. Johnny has provided her personal email for those who want to learn more: leannejohnny@rmxemail.com

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