HARLINGEN — First came the hurricane, then came the pandemic.
Taryn Carroll, 17, and her cousin Rocky Thompson, 16, have been marooned here since October when Hurricane Dorian devastated their sunny Bahamian island of Abaco in September. They’d planned to return home in June, but then the COVID-19 pandemic hit them.
“It’s like a double whammy, it’s like back to back,” said Rocky, a junior at St. Joseph Academy in Brownsville.
He and Taryn have been staying here with their aunt Kelly Roberts, owner of Bicycle World. They had first moved to the Bahamian town of Spanish Wells to continue their education there.
“I knew I didn’t want to let my education just slip out of the palm of my hand because this was my senior year,” Taryn said. “I started school in Spanish Wells and it was just so different compared to what we had at home that it just wasn’t working out for us.”
St. Joseph Academy turned out to be exactly what they were looking for.
“When I first started it sucked because I left people that I had known in my whole life,” Taryn said. “I left all my friends and it was like senior year. But then I came here and I met some really awesome people.”
They couldn’t sing St. Joseph’s praises enough.
“It’s a great school, great faculty, great friends,” Rocky said. “The work’s challenging, so it provides me with a challenge. The other school I would have been going back to was way too easy.”
They described in vivid detail the disaster they witnessed in September. In fact, Taryn has written about the experience.
“September first was the day Dorian arrived,” she writes. “The damage that was left behind was unfathomable to anybody that hasn’t felt the wrath of such a storm.”
The wind, she writes, picked up at 9 a.m. but “it was nothing to worry about.”
Things changed very rapidly by 11 a.m.
“We started hearing things in the attic and water was coming in through the roof because the roof had lifted up, and it was really worrisome,” she writes. “Then I looked out the window, my house is probably 22 feet above see level, and the water was at the door.”
The storm battered the island for three days. The power went off, and the last message she received stated, “Dorian becomes the strongest hurricane in modern record in the Western Bahamas. Catastrophic conditions occurring in Abaco Island.”
She chuckled with sharp humor at the memory.
“That was the last thing I got,” she said. “You can imagine what that feels like.”
In the coming days, she ventured into a town she’d know her whole life — and nothing was familiar. Looters marauded through the streets and she heard gunshots at night.
Far away from the tragedies left in Dorian’s wake, she and Rocky found solace and safety in Harlingen and their new school at St. Joseph.
“Everybody was so kind,” she said. “Second semester was when it really started to get great with all the senior activities that were going to happen and I was stoked.”
Then the pandemic.
“Now it’s just like, it’s gone again,” she said.
Since the implementation of stay-at-home orders, they’ve had to remain indoors where they’ve continued their class work online. But as always, they’re coping well.
“I’d rather be bored at home than dead outside,” Taryn said matter-of-factly.
Rocky revealed an admirable survival mentality.
“The good thing about it is that now we’ve been through the worst with stuff, like this with the quarantine, being stuck in the house doesn’t matter,” he said. “After the hurricane we had to stay in the house anyway, it kind of prepared you to find ways to find things to do to keep yourself occupied.”
Rocky looks forward to completing high school next year — somewhere. Taryn hopes to return home in June to work at her father’s business and begin online classes to earn a bachelor’s in health and wellness.
However, even that’s uncertain. The Bahamas have been completely locked down. Residents are only allowed to leave home to go to the pharmacy or the grocery stores. And the stores? Each has a list of names, and individuals can only enter on their designated days.
Taryn plans to write a book about the whole experience and the continuing saga of tragedy and triumph in her young life.