A loud “ping” resonated from her pocket, and fear filled a void her thirst for knowledge used to inhabit. She knew it wasn’t her friend texting again about the new homework assignment. Looking down at her phone, her eyes moved slowly across piercing words, and suddenly her fear morphed into something greater.
A burning anger took over each thought, coming in a million at a time. This time, it was someone close. Twin boys of her mother’s dear friend, who were all but family – gone in an instant amid the uncontrollable tragedy that enveloped her beloved home.
Eldaneka “Neka” Rolle walked to class knowing something more profound than anything she could have learned in four years at Northwest – what tragedy does to the human heart. A student from the Grand Bahama island, Neka Rolle embraced her daily schedule knowing numerous extended family members are just gone, passing without a whisper of a goodbye or solitary conversation providing hope for the better.
Hurricane Dorian leaves thousands more sharing her affliction from the Grand Bahama and Abaco Islands, where the death toll now reaches at least 50, a number expected to grow exponentially as officials sift through the aftermath.
“They are still, at this very moment right now, uncovering bodies,” Neka Rolle said. “People back home are crying out to the world for help.”
Dorian moved past the Bahamas and is growing weaker from when it hit the U.S. as what experts call a post-tropical cyclone.
However, its devastation still left tens of thousands of people homeless and searching for loved ones through international recovery efforts. Neka Rolle’s family is no exception.
Due to massive flooding and debris from toppled infrastructure, search and rescue has become increasingly difficult. Neka Rolle’s aunt, Sharon Rolle, who was recovered along with her son by a helicopter, said the roof came off of her home while the hurricane sat over the islands, leaving them exposed to 185 mph winds.
“You can literally smell the death in the air as the water dries up and the sun comes out,” Sharon Rolle said on the phone with CNN. “It’s so unreal.”
Neka’s mother, younger sister and older brother live on Grand Bahama, where the neighboring island of Abaco is deemed uninhabitable by residents and where officials banned flights not related to aid.
“There is nothing here,” Sharon Rolle told CNN. “Abaco is demolished; it’s finished. We need help. We need to evacuate. We need to get out of here.”
Many dead bodies were recovered from the eastern side of Grand Bahama. The central part of the island, where Neka grew up, was completely destroyed and the single hospital on the island came to be underwater, forcing its evacuation.
Nearly every home was severely damaged or destroyed near Neka Rolle’s family residence in Grand Bahama. According to the Bahama officials in Harbour, Abaco, at least 60% of homes were wiped away, compelling civilians to turn toward one another, using jet skis, boats and whatever resources available to help rescue people stuck or lost in treacherous debris.
Neka Rolle was able to contact her family from the U.S. in spurts by way of a cell tower that survived hours of massive winds and heavy rain.
“A cell tower from a new phone company in Freeport, Bahamas, called ALIV stayed up during the storm,” Neka Rolle said. “It was a miracle.”
The Category 5 storm surged over the islands for 48 hours, moving at a pace slower than 1 mph according to several Freeport, Bahamas, and New York Times reports.
It ripped apart schools, businesses, homes and infrastructure Neka Rolle and her family will never see again. Memories preserved only in photographs were washed away in the storm. .
As words translated from overwrought minds, to fingers, to a welcoming screen connected what seemed to her like two different worlds, Neka Rolle was able to let her mom know she was not alone.
“I feel like the only thing that I could do on this end right now is be strong and continue to look past what’s going on right now,” Neka Rolle said. “You still gotta deal with life after. I think that’s what's keeping me going – the fact that there will still be life to live after this.”
The Rolle family has two daughters who call Northwest their second home, attending on government and University-funded scholarships. Neka Rolle came with her sister Shonte Rolle as freshmen in fall 2017, but due to financial setbacks, Shonte no longer attends.
Neka Rolle applied for a position in the Registrar’s Office in 2017, earning her first campus job as a freshman and taking on another job with Student Affairs in 2018. Managing two jobs on top of classes, she also serves as the government affairs vice chair and on-campus representative of the Student Senate.
Neka Rolle is nearing her senior year as a Bearcat and said she receives a tremendous amount of support from students and faculty on campus who know her.
“All of these departments and people that have been there – I can’t leave anyone out because there are students who pass me and ask if I am OK,” Neka Rolle said. “It provides a glimpse of peace and encouragement.”
The 1,331 miles that separate Neka Rolle and her mom grow smaller with every shared word. Then a dull reality sets in the next morning, as she wakes up in Missouri and not in Grand Bahama.
Seeking ways to help her country, Neka Rolle met with departments and organizations on campus, hoping there was some way the Northwest community could send help to those in need, if only just kind words or small donations.
“I met with the International Involvement Center, Student Affairs, Res Life, the Lighthouse and Navigators,” Neka Rolle said. “I was so happy when they responded and were all so on board.”
The Bahamas took an economic hit from a Category 4 hurricane, Matthew, in 2016, but the damage incurred from Dorian’s Category 5 strength put people in a situation Prime Minister of the Bahamas Hubert Minnis said requires extensive international attention.
“We are in the midst of one of the greatest national crises in our country’s history,” Minnis said in an announcement Sept. 3. “No amount of effort or resources will be held back.”
As teams on Abaco and Grand Bahama wade through waist-high water and artifacts of life as it used to be, families like the Rolles attempt to put together pieces of broken hearts.
“It’s bad,” Neka Rolle said. “There’s no other way to describe it; there’s no big word you could use. It will still go back to that same three letter word; It’s bad.”
Neka Rolle walked to class looking down at her feet, seeing not the gray concrete or the approaching fork in her path, but her toes in crystal-white sand drawing near to the calm. She doesn’t see an oak tree standing four feet to the left, but light glistening through the thin supple leaves of a young palm waving at her in the breeze as it passes through her veins. A day-dream inspired by colors of the ocean, her love of home remains mightier than the waves that broke it.