LAKE MARY, Fla. - As Hurricane Dorian drew closer and closer to landfall, Alan Hamilton watched the weather reports, like everyone in Florida, hoping for a turn in the storm.
"It looked like it might miss us, it might not be too bad,” said Hamilton.
Only Alan, his wife Deborah, and their grandson Xander weren’t watching the reports from Central Florida: they were glued to the tv in their home on the coast of Marsh Harbour on the Abaco Islands, and Dorian pointed right at them.
“Then we seen that it was gonna be pretty bad,” said Alan.
The family, still concerned for the pregnant daughter and family in Central Florida, was now facing down a Category 5 hurricane with few options. They knew if the storm kept its intensity to their island, their home on the coast would be no match.
"So we evacuated inland to a friend's house that's concrete,” said Alan.
The family said they hunkered down in the home as the massive storm slowly made its way over their island. They recall how loud the roaring storm was, as the worst parts made landfall. They said most of the windows on the home were shuttered but through an uncovered back window they could see trees breaking and their friend’s fence being ripped apart.
"You couldn't ‘see wind,’ but we could ‘see wind,’" said Xander, only nine years old and experience a catastrophic storm.
Soon the family said other neighbors were coming to the concrete home as their smaller homes slowly tore apart in the wind. At one point, Deborah said 81 people and 12 dogs occupied the small house.
The family said everyone was soon working together. The house in which they sought refuse was stronger than their own, but it was still coming apart in Dorian’s wrath.
"The bathroom ceiling finally gave in, the bedroom window was breached,” said Deborah. "They screwed the door shut, they put a dresser in front of it, and two of the biggest guys there put their bodies in front of it to hold it."
The family said the eye of the storm eventually passed over and the worst of the storm was through, but the hurricane nearly stalled over the Bahamas. They still had more than a day of weaker hurricane and tropical storm force winds and rain ahead.
The small house was now bursting at the seems though and flooded with a small amount of water.
So the family decided to chance the rest of the storm in their van out front of the house.
"It was bucking and rocking you know?" said Alan. "The last night we slept in the van before we evacuated out, it was high tropical storm force winds, lower hurricane force winds."
When the storm finally passed, the Hamiltons said they looked around at a destroyed neighborhood; a destroyed island. The family said they attempted to get back to the coast to check on their home, but were unable to pass flood waters and debris safely, without threatening to damage the van – their only real shelter and only possible way to get to safety.
On Tuesday morning, the family finally started seeing U.S. military and government helicopters flying in overhead to assist with survivors. The family made their way to the landing area with passports ready and said they waited all day as injured people were, rightfully, brought onto the choppers and flown out first. Alan said he was ready to stay behind to get his family out, but Deborah and Xander said they weren’t about to leave without him.
Finally, the family was able to get on board a U.S. Customs and Boarder Patrol chopper; fielding interview questions from national television cameras as they climbed on board.
"One of the agents gave us his seat, he sat in the window," said Deborah.
The family said it was a feeling of massive relief as they lifted off from their long-time home, en-route to Florida. They eventually landed and found their way to Orlando. They had little but the clothes on their back, and wanted desperately to get to family.
The family made their way to Alan and Deborah’s daughter and step-son’s home in DeBary. Their step-son being a Lake Mary Firefighter, fire department leaders said they put out the call to city employees to get clothing and general needs donations for the family.
As Alan, Deborah, and Xander sat in the FOX 35 studios telling their story Thursday, they said they were now in good shape, though shaken and exhausted, and had more than enough support from their family and their coworkers and friend. However, they said they wanted to tell their story to make a plea for their island home.
"Abaconians need help,” said Alan. “They need desperate help."
The family said they didn’t know if many of their friends and neighbors on the island were even alive. They said food is already reliant on week-to-week deliveries due to their island existence meaning limited inventory at their few grocery stores, and with the ports now destroyed food will likely quickly run out.
"They're going to run out of food, and water, and there're babies there!” said Deborah through tear-filled eyes.
The family urges anyone who can give to donate to relief efforts. They said baby needs, formula, water, food, basic household goods, and so many other items will likely be the difference between life and death for some in the coming weeks.
They said many on the island were already looting from local stores, but not with criminal intent, just to keep surviving.