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Published: 2020-02-10 20:43:00
Updated: 2020-02-10 20:43:35
By Payton Tysinger and Jilly Kuehn, UNC-CH
The Abacos, Bahamas — Elbow Cay is a small island with a tight-knit community, one where, according to the locals, children are the heartbeat. But five months after Hurricane Dorian, the streets where these children walked and clung onto golf carts are lined with mounds of debris.
Frank Knowles’ family was split apart by the storm. He is still on the island, working to rebuild their home. His wife, Sarah, moved to Morehead City, North Carolina, so the couple’s teenage daughters Meredith and Ryan can continue schooling.
“That’s by far the hardest part, just being separated from each other,“ Knowles said. He also insists they have a lot to be thankful for.
As the eye of the storm approached, intuition led the Knowles family to leave their home and flee to a relative's home nearby. When they returned, their home and practically everything in it was gone.
The roof and the front walls of their home are still gone. Knowles stands in puddles where their living room once was, looking out over the ocean as he shares his story.
“I couldn’t believe what my eyes were seeing. It was totally unacceptable,” said Knowles, remembering the moments he first saw what had become of his newly-built home after the storm. “Things like photos are hard because the other things are replaceable, you know?”
It left Sarah Knowles in disbelief.
“You’re happy that there wasn’t more destruction, but I was like, ‘Why my house?’” she said.
The memories of the storm looping through all of their heads on repeat are difficult too; there are good days and there are bad days. On the worst days, Sarah Knowles finds herself crying for reasons she cannot even explain.
Life after storm has been the most difficult for their oldest daughter, Ryan.
“Ryan is probably the most emotional because she knows she won’t really live there again,” Sarah Knowles said. “She’s gonna go from here to college.”
Despite the difficult move 900 miles away from the Abaco Islands, the Knowles family emphasizes how lucky they are to have found Morehead City.
“I felt honestly very lucky that we found that as a place for them to relocate to because everyone was so super kind,” said Frank Knowles, listing all of the ways Morehead City is like Hope Town, their hometown.
Seeing the blue tarps on the roofs brought an odd sense of comfort.
“This community had Florence last year, so they obviously it wasn’t as bad, but they, like, they get it,” Sarah Knowles said.
The Knowles hope to reunite their family back home on the island within a year and a half so Ryan can first finish high school in Morehead City.
“I don’t think there’s a magic timeline of when I’ll just be better,” Sarah Knowles said.
For now, the family is divided by the sea, but as the Abacos rebuild and return to their former beauty, the Knowles family and thousands of others like them will be together at home once again.