HOLYOKE, MA (WGGB/WSHM) - A Holyoke native is back in western Mass after living through Hurricane Dorian.
He survived while he was on his boat the entire storm.
Back in his daughter’s living room in Holyoke, Frank Brunelle sits, still sore, recounting what he experienced after Category 5 Hurricane Dorian slammed the Bahamas.
Frank is retired and has lived on his current boat the last eight years, the Bahamas having a special meaning for him.
“There’s only so many beautiful beaches in the world and the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen down there. In fact, I buried my father’s ashes down there in one of those beaches a few years ago, and that’s one of the reasons I go down there, to talk to him and hang out with him on the beach sometimes," Brunelle tells us.
This time around, he was visiting friends on the Abacos Island that he hasn’t seen in three years.
They began to get word that Hurricane Dorian was approaching.
“I was undecided on where to go. I was in an area in the south end of the sea of Abaco, called Little Harbour, and I had wonderful friends down there, but my original plan was to be closer to Marsh Harbour. I thought I had a place picked out that I’d call my hurricane hole," stated Brunelle.
But his decision to stay in Little Harbour was one that saved his life.
Marsh Harbour, he says, was completely wiped out.
He later learned that his friends that lived there didn’t survive the storm.
“I had heard afterwards that, when all these boats broke free in Marsh Harbour, there was a seventy or eighty-foot boat. It was basically a tidal wave that rose up, because of the eye and the storm. Basically sucks a wall of water up, picked up this boat, and it landed right on these folks' home and crushed them to death and then the boat was swept another quarter mile into town," explained Brunelle.
Knowing his best bet was to stay in Little Harbour, he began to anchor down.
“It’s surrounded by these mangrove trees and those are fairly indestructible in a storm, so those are the things you look for to tie into, because they’ll keep you there, even though one of my anchors dragged through it and I did end up in the trees for a little while, but I would’ve lost the boat had I not stayed on board," continued Brunelle.
Frank’s friends thinking he was crazy for staying on board.
“The noise was unbelievable. Coconuts flying by at 150 miles an hour. Pieces of roof flying everywhere. I was just lucky, lucky, lucky," noted Brunelle.
Frank’s friends took his dog, Chanty, to keep him safe, but little did he expect he would be saving another dog, named Puppet, all while being pushed around by the wind.
“I look out and here’s Puppet swimming around my boat and it’s starting to blow, so anyways, I had to go out on my swim platform and try to pull her up on board," said Brunelle.
His daughter, Bevan, anxiously tried to communicate with her dad, but was only able to track his location, thanks to a GPS, but not being able to actually talk to him.
“The first time we actually had good, normal straight conversation was when he got to Orlando, because every time we spoke, it was on somebody else’s phone," Frank's daughter, Bevan Brunelle, stated.
But now back reunited with his daughter, Frank says he’s happy to be alive and he hopes everyone helps those affected by the storm.
“I need folks to keep focused on the folks who really need help down there and then help bring some tourism down there, because it’s one of the most beautiful places on Earth that I can think of and I’d love to see it all come back somehow," added Brunelle.
Frank’s dogs, Chanty and the ones he saved, remain in a shelter down in the Bahamas.
He tells us he’s hoping to sail down again in November on a boat filled with supplies.