To say watching Hurricane Dorian slam into the Bahamas was nerve-wracking for Alaine Sullivan would be an understatement.
Sullivan, a student at USC Aiken, is in the international exchange program. When Dorian parked itself over Abaco and Grand Bahama for two days, all she could do was helplessly watch from the United States with no way of contacting her family, who lost cell phone service after power lines went down in 220-mph wind gusts.
"Not hearing from anybody had me in complete panic," Sullivan said. "It's like, they don't have electricity. They don't have phone service. We don't know who's dead, who's alive. It was just awful. I couldn't sleep."
Paige Davis, another USC Aiken exchange student from the Bahamas, echoed Sullivan's feelings of helplessness and fear as the storm raged.
"It was very scary," Davis said. "Especially once the phone lines and stuff went away. Your mind automatically goes to the worst case scenario."
Sullivan's family is from Nassau, the capital of the Bahamas. The city was spared the direct wrath of Dorian, being further south. Davis' father, who is from Freeport, was one of the few people whose home is still standing on Grand Bahama Island after Dorian finally left the area.
Sullivan's cousin, a USCA alum, wasn't quite as fortunate. Her family lost their home.
"Their house is gone," Sullivan said. "Completely gone. So, when my cousin goes back to the island, she doesn't have a house to go back to."
Hurricane Dorian was one of the strongest storms in the Atlantic Basin ever recorded. It hit the northern Bahamas as a catastrophic Category 5 hurricane. Torrential rain and storm surge flooding were so extreme that Grand Bahama was shown in satellite photos with large areas of the island underwater.
As few as 50 people have been reported killed in the storm. That number is expected to increase greatly as more bodies are found. More than 2,500 people have been reported missing. Thousands more are without homes, power, food and water.
Relief efforts have have started to try and assist those struggling to live in the wake of Dorian's destruction. Aiken is starting its own fundraiser at USCA.
"We are doing a drive for donations," said Elizabeth Dille, assistant director of Student Life and International Programs. "Anyone can drop off money or cash."
The university is also collecting relief supplies such as non-perishable food, cots and first-aid supplies. A full list of supplies needed in the Bahamas can be found online.
The drive is a collaboration between USCA Impact, the Zeta Phi Beta sorority, the Caribbean Student Alliance, the Office of International Programs and the Office of Student Life.
Monetary donations will be given directly to the American Red Cross' Hurricane Dorian Relief fund, which will go toward all areas affected by the storm, including parts of North Carolina.
Supplies will be taken by Sullivan and Davis to the Bahamas Consulate General in Atlanta in two weeks and will be shipped directly to the islands.
The donation drive is ongoing and will end Friday, Sept. 20. Donations can be taken to the Student Life Office in USC Aiken during business hours (8 a.m. to 10 p.m. weekdays, 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. Saturday and Sunday).
Sullivan has another suggestion for people who would like to help support the recovery efforts.
"I've been reading online and people are just assuming they have to cancel their vacation plans, and that's not the case," Sullivan said. "In fact, we need tourism – which is our No. 1 industry – we need that more than ever now to aid in the two islands."
There are over 700 islands and keys in the Bahamas that weren't affected by Hurricane Dorian.
For more info, visit bahamas.com/relief.