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Bahamian farmer tells how his family survived Dorian in attic for three days


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A Bahamian farmer and his wife have told how they weathered Hurricane Dorian for three days in an attic with his elderly mother-in-law suspended above flood waters in a makeshift harness, as the storm obliterated their 25-acre property, killed one of their workers and washed away more than 100 of their farm animals.

Organic farmers George and Sissel Johnson had to act fast when Sissel’s mother Virginia Mosvold, 84, wasn’t able to climb through a ceiling tile to safety, leading George to create a makeshift harness of cable TV wires to float her in the rising flood waters. 

For the next 72 hours, the three waited out the harrowing storm with just two jugs of water and a loaf of bread, as they listened to the hurricane ravaging the land where the Johnsons grew some of the Caribbean island’s only fresh produce and kept horses, goats, donkeys, cows, rabbits, peacocks, turkeys and chickens.

And although one-by-one their animals were swept away in the storm’s biblical floods and drowned, and their beloved Ol’ Freetown Farm in Freeport, Bahamas was left decimated, the family survived.  

But Sissel exclusively told DailyMail.com that they all thought their last hour on earth had arrived.

‘We felt very alone,’ Sissel said Monday outside Freeport’s Rand Memorial Hospital, where her mother was in intensive care while waiting to be evacuated to Fort Lauderdale. ‘The storm surge was at least 20 feet high. It looked like a tsunami, a wall of water coming at us.’

‘We felt very alone,’ Sissel Johnson, here with her husband George, said Monday outside Freeport’s Rand Memorial Hospital, where her mother was in intensive care while waiting to be evacuated to Fort Lauderdale. ‘The storm surge was at least 20 feet high. It looked like a tsunami, a wall of water coming at us’ 

Organic farmers George and Sissel Johnson spent 72 hours in their attic waiting out Hurricane Dorian as it ravaged their property Ol' Freetown Farm in Freeport, Bahamas. Sissel's mother Virginia Mosvold, 84, wasn't able to climb through a ceiling tile to safety, leading George to create a makeshift harness of cable TV wires to float her in the rising flood waters. Pictured: Sissel Johnson's mother Virginia Mosvold be transported to the hospital after being rescued

Organic farmers George and Sissel Johnson spent 72 hours in their attic waiting out Hurricane Dorian as it ravaged their property Ol’ Freetown Farm in Freeport, Bahamas. Sissel’s mother Virginia Mosvold, 84, wasn’t able to climb through a ceiling tile to safety, leading George to create a makeshift harness of cable TV wires to float her in the rising flood waters. Pictured: Sissel Johnson’s mother Virginia Mosvold be transported to the hospital after being rescued 

George exclusively told DailyMail.com his family would all be dead if he hadn't gone outside with a flashlight and see a wall of water advancing towards their home - quickly punching through the ceiling to get to safety. Pictured: The ceiling the Johnsons broke through to take shelter in during the storm

George exclusively told DailyMail.com his family would all be dead if he hadn’t gone outside with a flashlight and see a wall of water advancing towards their home – quickly punching through the ceiling to get to safety. Pictured: The ceiling the Johnsons broke through to take shelter in during the storm 

The family waited out the hurricane with just two jugs of water and a loaf of bread, as they listened to the hurricane ravaging their 25-acre farm. When the family finally emerged, they found that more than 100 of their farm animals, including horses, goats, donkeys, cows, rabbits, peacocks, turkeys and chickens, had drowned or were swept away

The family waited out the hurricane with just two jugs of water and a loaf of bread, as they listened to the hurricane ravaging their 25-acre farm. When the family finally emerged, they found that more than 100 of their farm animals, including horses, goats, donkeys, cows, rabbits, peacocks, turkeys and chickens, had drowned or were swept away

The body of Normandy, a large horse, laid on the ground of its barn as if it tried to get out. The carcass burst open after six days in the heat, exposing his insides

On the farm, the eerie silence was only disturbed by the rustling of dead grass underfoot. The stench of death caused by the rotting corpses of animals hung heavily in the air

On the farm, the eerie silence was only disturbed by the rustling of dead grass underfoot. The stench of death caused by the rotting corpses of animals hung heavily in the air

Looking like demented holiday ornaments, several chickens hung lifelessly in a tree after getting stuck in branches while seeking higher ground. Pictured: A bird sits dead in its cage

Looking like demented holiday ornaments, several chickens hung lifelessly in a tree after getting stuck in branches while seeking higher ground. Pictured: A bird sits dead in its cage 

Tragically, one of the Johnson’s farmhand, a man named Kenel, drowned in his groom’s quarters in the horse bar. He’d been with the operation for eight years.

‘He must’ve been sleeping when the surge came,’ Sissel said. ‘We found him in his bed when the water receded.’

Wedged between the ocean and the Lucayan National Park, Ol’ Freeport Farm was opened in the late 2000s on the premise that Bahamians were tired of eating low-quality imported foods, and that tourists would take eco-tours on the property and ride horses on pristine golden beaches.

Despite the rocky soil, the farm quickly became the largest local food producer and created a bounty of eggs, seasonal fruits and vegetables like string beans, spinach, breadfruits and avocados.

To distribute her produce, Sissel founded her own farmer’s market where she usually sold out of whatever organically grown items she and smaller farmers brought.

Tourists from giant cruise ships docked in Freeport came, too. They rode the horses and petted her rabbits, guinea pigs, hogs, sheep, calf and other animals.

All that is gone now, and Sissel and her mother evacuated to the United States late Monday.

Husband George is planning to join his family in America, 40 miles across the sea, but he hasn’t been able to get on a plane just yet.

‘The financial loss is enormous,’ 51-year-old Sissel said. ‘Probably upward of $2 million.’

DailyMail.com toured the abandoned farm this week.

DailyMail.com toured the abandoned farm this week. In the now-roofless storage barn, the grains and animal feed had day earlier filled the space was replaced with a thin salty film of salty dirt and thousands of shredded pieces of tree trunks. Locked animal cages are strewn throughout the farm

DailyMail.com toured the abandoned farm this week. In the now-roofless storage barn, the grains and animal feed had day earlier filled the space was replaced with a thin salty film of salty dirt and thousands of shredded pieces of tree trunks. Locked animal cages are strewn throughout the farm

The rotting body of a dead horse is at the entrance of a stable where locked cages are strewn about

The rotting body of a dead horse is at the entrance of a stable where locked cages are strewn about 

Locked animal cages are strewn throughout the destroyed farm grounds

Locked animal cages are strewn throughout the destroyed farm grounds,

Locked animal cages are strewn throughout the destroyed farm grounds, as farm animals lay dead nearby 

Mangled bodies of birds that couldn't flee their cages lay dead dead amid a pile of debris the storm had swept through

Mangled bodies of birds that couldn’t flee their cages lay dead dead amid a pile of debris the storm had swept through 

Romeo is the name of one of the horse that died in Hurricane Dorian at Ol Freetown Farm

Romeo is the name of one of the horse that died in Hurricane Dorian at Ol Freetown Farm

To reach the property about 20 miles from Freeport, reporters drove through entire forests where, as in a nuclear explosion, pine trees were snapped in half by winds and entire sections of the two-lane road were shredded to table-sized bits and blown into ditches

To reach the property about 20 miles from Freeport, reporters drove through entire forests where, as in a nuclear explosion, pine trees were snapped in half by winds and entire sections of the two-lane road were shredded to table-sized bits and blown into ditches

To reach the property about 20 miles from Freeport, reporters drove through entire forests where, as in a nuclear explosion, pine trees were snapped in half by winds and entire sections of the two-lane road were shredded to table-sized bits and blown into ditches.

Mile after mile of electrical wires, some of them still live, littered the road.

Like ghosts, residents whose modest homes were leveled walked helplessly alongside the road as occasional passersby stopped to hand over water bottles and toilet paper.

On the farm, the eerie silence was only disturbed by the rustling of dead grass underfoot.

The stench of death caused by the rotting corpses of animals hung heavily in the air.

The body of Normandy, a large horse, lied on the ground of its barn as if it tried to get out. The carcass burst open after six days in the heat, exposing his insides.

Another pony, Romeo, drowned in its stall.

Looking like demented holiday ornaments, several chickens hung lifelessly in a tree after getting stuck in branches while seeking higher ground.

In the now-roofless storage barn, the grains and animal feed had day earlier filled the space was replaced with a thin salty film of salty dirt and thousands of shredded pieces of tree trunks.

The employees’ cottage was totally gutted, the bedroom and kitchen barely recognizable filled with three feet of mud. Flood debris littered the stripped-bare roof at least 15 feet from the ground.

The farm is gone now, and Sissel and her mother Virginia (pictured on Wednesday) evacuated to the United States late Monday. Husband George is planning to join his family in America, 40 miles across the sea, but he hasn't been able to get on a plane just yet. 'The financial loss is enormous,' 51-year-old Sissel said. 'Probably upward of $2 million'

The farm is gone now, and Sissel and her mother Virginia (pictured on Wednesday) evacuated to the United States late Monday. Husband George is planning to join his family in America, 40 miles across the sea, but he hasn’t been able to get on a plane just yet. ‘The financial loss is enormous,’ 51-year-old Sissel said. ‘Probably upward of $2 million’

Sissel told DailyMail.com her dream to farm paradise has been dashed. 'The salt-water flooded everything, so we're not going to be able to grow anything for a while. It's a total loss. I think we're done.' Pictured: Sissel hugging a volunteer who helped rescue her mother from their flooded home

Sissel told DailyMail.com her dream to farm paradise has been dashed. ‘The salt-water flooded everything, so we’re not going to be able to grow anything for a while. It’s a total loss. I think we’re done.’ Pictured: Sissel hugging a volunteer who helped rescue her mother from their flooded home 

The worst about the storm, said George Johnson, is that it came in darkness. 'The electricity was cut off,' he said in an exclusive interview, 'so we were in total darkness and had no idea what was happening around us. There was a lot of wind and we knew there would be damages, but we were inside the house. It's fairly new and really solid'

The worst about the storm, said George Johnson, is that it came in darkness. ‘The electricity was cut off,’ he said in an exclusive interview, ‘so we were in total darkness and had no idea what was happening around us. There was a lot of wind and we knew there would be damages, but we were inside the house. It’s fairly new and really solid’

At one point, Sissel said, the fridge floated up. She opened the door and had just enough time to grab two one-gallon jugs of water and a loaf of bread before the flood took out the fridge. Because their aluminum roof has no windows, the Johnsons couldn't properly gauge their predicament

At one point, Sissel said, the fridge floated up. She opened the door and had just enough time to grab two one-gallon jugs of water and a loaf of bread before the flood took out the fridge. Because their aluminum roof has no windows, the Johnsons couldn’t properly gauge their predicament

By the yellow main house where the Johnsons sat in the attic, old family photos and film negatives were spread around the yard. A handful of long tree trunks blocked access to the front door

By the yellow main house where the Johnsons sat in the attic, old family photos and film negatives were spread around the yard. A handful of long tree trunks blocked access to the front door

At one point, George said he was overcome with a feeling that things weren't going well and he decided to go out with a flashlight. In the light's slim beam, he saw a wall of water pushed by the barometric pressure advancing toward the house. 'If I didn't see that, we'd all be dead,' he said

At one point, George said he was overcome with a feeling that things weren’t going well and he decided to go out with a flashlight. In the light’s slim beam, he saw a wall of water pushed by the barometric pressure advancing toward the house. ‘If I didn’t see that, we’d all be dead,’ he said

Weathered family photos that miraculously survived Hurricane Dorian are scattered among the ruins of the Johnsons' home

Weathered family photos that miraculously survived Hurricane Dorian are scattered among the ruins of the Johnsons' home

Weathered family photos that miraculously survived Hurricane Dorian are scattered among the ruins of the Johnsons’ home  

Sissel said: 'Pine trees were floating through the house, coming in the open front door and following the current through the back door'

Sissel said: ‘Pine trees were floating through the house, coming in the open front door and following the current through the back door’

By the yellow main house where the Johnsons sat in the attic, old family photos and film negatives were spread around the yard. A handful of long tree trunks blocked access to the front door.

The worst about the storm, said George Johnson, is that it came in darkness.

‘The electricity was cut off,’ he said in an exclusive interview, ‘so we were in total darkness and had no idea what was happening around us. 

‘There was a lot of wind and we knew there would be damages, but we were inside the house. It’s fairly new and really solid.’

At one point, George said he was overcome with a feeling that things weren’t going well and he decided to go out with a flashlight. In the light’s slim beam, he saw a wall of water pushed by the barometric pressure advancing toward the house.

‘If I didn’t see that, we’d all be dead,’ he said. ‘But the doors and the widows resisted to the pressure of the water for a few minutes and gave us some time,’ he said.

Standing on a kitchen counter, George said he punched a hole in the ceiling tiles and climbed into the attic. He and his wife made it.

With the water now rushing inside the house through a back door, and eventually reaching more than halfway to the 10-foot ceiling, Sissel’s elderly mother Virginia was able to get on the counter but couldn’t be lifted.

That’s when fast-thinking George, 53, went to work.

Wedged between the ocean and the Lucayan National Park, Ol' Freeport Farm was opened in the late 2000s on the premise that Bahamians were tired of eating low-quality imported foods, and that tourists would take eco-tours on the property and ride horses on pristine golden beaches

Wedged between the ocean and the Lucayan National Park, Ol’ Freeport Farm was opened in the late 2000s on the premise that Bahamians were tired of eating low-quality imported foods, and that tourists would take eco-tours on the property and ride horses on pristine golden beaches

Because their aluminum roof has no windows, the Johnsons couldn't properly gauge their predicament. When they were able to look out through the hole in the kitchen ceiling, George said he felt stranded in the middle of the ocean

Because their aluminum roof has no windows, the Johnsons couldn’t properly gauge their predicament. When they were able to look out through the hole in the kitchen ceiling, George said he felt stranded in the middle of the ocean

'I don't think any of us slept for three days,' he said, added they eventually evacuated to a friend's house in Freeport. 'You couldn't. The wind sounded like a freight train was passing a few feet away'

‘I don’t think any of us slept for three days,’ he said, added they eventually evacuated to a friend’s house in Freeport. ‘You couldn’t. The wind sounded like a freight train was passing a few feet away’

Hurricane Dorian's rampage through the Bahamas last week killed at least 50 people, largely on the hard-hit Great Abaco Island, an official said on Tuesday

Hurricane Dorian’s rampage through the Bahamas last week killed at least 50 people, largely on the hard-hit Great Abaco Island, an official said on Tuesday

‘There were cables in the attic. Cable TV, I think. I just grabbed them off the attic floor and shaped them into a circle like a rodeo rope and threw it around her.’

Elderly Virginia, Ginny to her friends, floated with the tide as epic floods prevented rescue attempts.

When they tide retired somewhat, Ginny stood or sat on the counter until the next tide came in.

At one point, Sissel said, the fridge floated up. She opened the door and had just enough time to grab two one-gallon jugs of water and a loaf of bread before the flood took out the fridge.

Because their aluminum roof has no windows, the Johnsons couldn’t properly gauge their predicament.

When they were able to look out through the hole in the kitchen ceiling, George said he felt stranded in the middle of the ocean.

‘You couldn’t see the buildings. The water reached above the trees. It was stunning,’ he said. ‘Like we were on a boat drifting.’

‘There were even white caps on top of the water,’ Sissel added. ‘Pine trees were floating through the house, coming in the open front door and following the current through the back door.’

George eventually tied his mother-in-law’s harness to a nail in the roof so that he wouldn’t have to keep holding her.

Private forecasters estimated that some $3 billion in insured property was destroyed or damaged in the Caribbean

Private forecasters estimated that some $3 billion in insured property was destroyed or damaged in the Caribbean

Evacuees, rescue workers and officials widely expect the death toll number to climb higher as more bodies are pulled from the rubble of a demolished neighborhood in Marsh Harbour in Abaco

Evacuees, rescue workers and officials widely expect the death toll number to climb higher as more bodies are pulled from the rubble of a demolished neighborhood in Marsh Harbour in Abaco

Dorian pummeled the Bahamas with 200-mile-per-hour winds. It was one of the strongest Caribbean hurricanes on record and stands as the worst disaster in Bahamian history

Dorian pummeled the Bahamas with 200-mile-per-hour winds. It was one of the strongest Caribbean hurricanes on record and stands as the worst disaster in Bahamian history

Some 70,000 people were in need of food and shelter, the World Food Programme estimated

Some 70,000 people were in need of food and shelter, the World Food Programme estimated

‘I don’t think any of us slept for three days,’ he said, added they eventually evacuated to a friend’s house in Freeport. ‘You couldn’t. The wind sounded like a freight train was passing a few feet away. 

‘Some wind went into the gutters and sounded like music. In hurricane, you usually get bursts of wind then it calms down. In this case, there was no reprieve. Constant, unending wind.’

Sissel said her husband was able arrange pieces of siding on an outside wall into letters that spelled out HELP.

She took down the sign when rescuers finally came in the form of a heavy all-wheel drive vehicle September 4.

Virginia was weak, bruised and suffering from an apparent infection in her legs, possibly from floating in increasingly dirty water.

She was rushed to the local hospital and was released September 9, six days after her rescue, so that she could be flown to Fort Lauderdale with her daughter and checked into a hospital there.

She is in stable condition, according to her son-in-law.

Sissel told DailyMail.com her dream to farm paradise has been dashed.

‘The salt-water flooded everything, so we’re not going to be able to grow anything for a while. It’s a total loss. I think we’re done.’ 

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk


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