Edward Lockhart, 78, rode out Hurricane Irma underneath a tree on Buena Vista Cay, stranded and alone.
Lockhart told the Nassau Guardian that he did not intend to ride the storm out on his little cay, but he had no way off the island – 20 miles north of Ragged Island where his boat was being repaired.
“I couldn’t leave. I was by myself. No one came for me,” he said.
There were reports circulating that Lockhart refused to leave the island and that police officers attempted to move him to Ragged Island ahead of the storm. But Lockhart said that is not true.
He said he did not feel safe in his home because of the rising tide and that led him to seek shelter in the hills of Buena Vista Cay.
He spent more than a day riding out Irma in the open. He was rescued three days later and was suffering from dehydration.
Hurricane Irma moved over those islands late last week, packing winds up to 185 miles per hour.
“Irma came early one morning and it was chaos from then on,” he told the Nassau Guardian.
“I was in my house on Buena Vista Cay. After the weather started, I began making preparations to ride this storm out. I had a portable radio and I was listening to the news and seeing what kind of storm this was going to be.
“My main concern was the 15 to 20-foot rise in the tide. Wind factor and rain factor I could handle, but the tide is more difficult than the rain and the wind. So I prepared for the tide.
“I had to leave my house because it was only 50 feet from the beach. I knew that was too close. I moved out. I took a piece of 50-foot rope – strong island rope. I took some water and went into the hills and I sat myself around a big tree,” he recounted.
Lockhart said he kept the rope, which was tied around the tree, in the event the tide moved inland.
He said if that happened he would have “wrapped the rope around my waist so the tide wouldn’t wash me off the island”.
Lockhart is Buena Vista Cay’s only resident.
“I have God with me. I’m the only human, though,” Lockhart said.
When asked what the storm was like, he said: “That difficult to explain. I was fully in the elements. Rain started coming down and there was nothing I could do. It made no sense that I put on clothes, because you would have been flying in the air like a kite. So I had to take my clothes off and walk around in my underpants. I had to crawl on my knees and my two hands to move during the storm. I didn’t have any clothes on, just my pants. That’s how forceful the wind was. The sand and the wind were so hard you couldn’t open your eyes.”
But Lockhart survived.
“After the storm blew over I was there for three days,” he said. “They all knew I was on the island. Someone really should have been there, but I reasoned within myself that someone didn’t come because Ragged Island went through the same thing I went through. Ragged Island is more damaged than me.”
Indeed, Ragged Island was devastated by the power of Irma. No building or structure was left unscathed.
Utility poles that had been snapped in two were strewn across the island, along with debris from homes, boats and other objects.
Eighteen people were left on the island at last report. The government intends to take those people either to New Providence or Exuma, with officials describing Ragged Island as uninhabitable.
After the hurricane passed, Lockhart said he didn’t worry about when help would come; he only focused on surviving.
“I said, ‘whenever they come, they come’,” he said. “All I was concerned about was a match. I couldn’t cook. Everything was wet. Some of my roof came down on the ground. I made a clothesline up in my ceiling in my house and put my clothes out to dry. When they dried, then I was comfortable. I said, ‘Ah, boy, this is beautiful’. I made my bed up in the ceiling of the house, in the roof, and that’s where I slept for the rest of the time before they came and picked me up.”
Three days after Lockhart braved the storm in the open, his cousin, Craig Maycock, and two other men, Charlie Culing and Lester Wallace, rescued him.
The men, who came by boat, took him to Ragged Island where he saw firsthand the destruction Irma had wrought.
“I expected it – the devastation of Ragged Island,” he said.
“The fact that no one came to me immediately or until some three days after, I knew that it had to be a drastic situation.”
Lockhart is now on New Providence with his family. He was flown out of Ragged Island on Monday. He spent yesterday trying to fix his phone, and today he planned to visit a doctor.
Throughout his ordeal, the 78-year-old said he never feared death.
“Well, I didn’t come on this earth to live forever,” he said.
“One day, we all will die. I am not here forever. I accept that whenever the bell rings for me, I will bow out. I wasn’t afraid.”