In the shanty town where they grew up, the other kids called them “salty boys.”
That’s Abaco slang for locals who speak English and socialize with the tourists at Treasure Cay. Isaac Petifrere and Francois Bausaide couldn’t argue with the ribbing — they did both.
And it probably saved their lives.
Today, Petifrere and Bausaide, both 22, are in Charleston, refugees from Hurricane Dorian. They are tired and traumatized, worried about their families, but also grateful to Lowcountry friends who helped them escape the worst disaster in Bahamas history.
Dorian was a deadly Category 5 hurricane with 185 mph winds when it parked over the Great Abaco and Grand Bahamas islands on Labor Day weekend. Islanders had been through storms before — Irma, most recently — but never anything like this. Dorian stalled for two days, sandblasting the islands down to nearly nothing, leaving death and debris in its wake.
The families of both men were offered shelter in Treasure Cay — Bausaide’s at a condo that belonged to his boss and Petifrere’s in one owned by American friends. Waterfront lodging was not an ideal evacuation spot, but it was infinitely safer than Sand Banks, the shanty town 20 miles north of Marsh Harbour where they live.
Petifrere and his family settled in expecting a Category 3 storm. When the power went out the first night, they simply went to bed. The next day the wind intensified, and Dorian plucked a shutter, then a window from the condo. Then it took the door off.
Soon, TVs and other shrapnel were flying around the condo, and the family ducked into a closet. Before long, they felt the walls of the condo pushing them toward the door, into the storm.
Bausaide was looking after three girls in his boss’s condo, one of them an infant. By the time the wind grew strong enough to bash a coconut tree against the condo’s wall, he ordered everyone away from the sliding glass door and into the bathroom.
After a couple of hours huddling in the dark, Dorian tore the roof off the condo.
Eventually, Petifrere, Bausaide and their families had to escape Treasure Cay; at one point, Bausaide — “Shaggy” to his friends — found himself swimming in storm surge. It’s a miracle they survived. Dorian destroyed most of the resort, as well as the modest homes in Sand Banks.
“If we’d stayed in our homes, we’d be dead,” Petifrere says.
More than 70,000 Bahamians lost their homes, and more than 1,300 people are missing. At least 50 have been confirmed dead, but that number is expected to rise.
Petifrere and Bausaide say their island home now smells like death.
They were able to escape an aftermath of no electricity and little food because they had passports; others in their family either didn’t have the paperwork to leave or refused. The “salty boys” made it to the United States with the help of several locals, including state Sen. Sandy Senn — a regular visitor to Abaco. In fact, she’s watched Petifrere and Bausaide grow up.
Senn’s family has been helping friends in the Bahamas since the storm hit, but they aren’t the only locals involved in the cleanup. North Charleston police have been collecting water and generators for folks, and state Rep. Bill Herbkersman has been flying supplies into the Bahamas.
Water Mission, the North Charleston-based nonprofit, has set up stations around the Bahamas — including one at Treasure Cay — to provide thousands of gallons of drinking water to locals every day.
Local attorneys have also set up a nonprofit where locals can donate to Bahamians displaced by the storm. It’s called Abaco Connect and the address to send donations is P.O. Box 12279, Charleston, SC 29422.
Another local family has provided Petifrere and Bausaide a place to live temporarily.
It’s a credit to the Lowcountry that so many people are pitching in to help the Bahamas through all this; but then, we’ve been there.
“It’s a blessing to have friends,” Petifrere says.
If you see these friendly guys around town, say hello. But don’t call them salty boys; they’re much more than that.
Reach Brian Hicks at email@example.com.