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World

Dorian Survivor Calls Staying Home The 'Stupidest Decision Of My Life'

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Hurricane Dorian is pounding the Carolinas. Parts of downtown Charleston are already flooded. It has weakened since it hit the Bahamas as a Category 5 storm. At least 20 people are confirmed dead there, and that number is expected to rise as recovery efforts are just beginning. Parts of the Abaco Islands in the Bahamas are destroyed.

Alex Cepero stayed in the Abacos town of Marsh Harbour, thinking he could ride out the storm with his two dogs, but Hurricane Dorian destroyed his home while he was still inside of it. And I want to warn listeners that this is a wrenching story. Alex, thank you for talking with ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

ALEX CEPERO: You're welcome.

SHAPIRO: First of all, are you OK? Were you injured or hurt during the storm?

CEPERO: No. It's a miracle I'm alive still.

SHAPIRO: So I understand when the storm came, you went to a central room of your house that you thought would be safe. Can you tell me what happened then?

CEPERO: Yeah. So a few hours before the eye hit, I could hear my house tearing apart around me. I happened to get cell signal. So I called my sister. I'm screaming, begging her to tell me where the eye is because I knew my house wasn't going to hold up.

SHAPIRO: Yeah.

CEPERO: I could hear it falling down, the portico, over my head. The water was rushing under the door. It was seawater. I could see seaweed. The door broke apart. And I could see daylight, and I was so confused. I didn't understand why, and then I realized the house was torn apart. And then we properly (ph) saw the ocean coming through. I couldn't believe it.

SHAPIRO: You sent us a video of the dogs on the console table.

CEPERO: Yeah.

SHAPIRO: And you are trying to speak calmly to them. And this huge wave of water just comes pounding in.

CEPERO: Yes. So I had shut what was left of the door, and I go outside. The waves are, like, 7, 8 feet above me, crashing over my head.

SHAPIRO: How did you survive that?

CEPERO: So a few days before, my sister made me promise to get a life vest. I said, yeah, yeah, yeah, I'll get one. But I didn't. And I was removing a dock ladder just so it wouldn't get damaged in the storm. And I was removing it, and a life vest floated up to me.

SHAPIRO: A life vest just came to you. That's incredible.

CEPERO: Yeah. So I thought, what the hell. Let me just grab it. I can always use an extra one. And I threw it in the garage. And when the garage was gone, the only thing that washed up to me when I was trying to leave the house was that life vest. And I put it on, and that helped keep me afloat.

SHAPIRO: Alex, I am so sorry for what you've been through. I can just hear how harrowing this was.

CEPERO: So I managed to get - climb on the side of the rock wall of my house. Waves are smashing against me. I ran across the foundation of what used to be my neighbor's house and then to the next house because I knew they were the only people on my street. And they had opened the door about 30 seconds before it was the eye of the storm. I'm screaming, begging my friend Chris Applebee (ph) - said, please help me because I'm not going to leave my dogs. So we made it back, went through the waves. We got the dogs. We had to hold them up.

I was trying to call my husband to say goodbye. So he - I wanted him to know how much I loved him and to be happy without me. But I couldn't because there was no cell signal. And then we got into the - his concrete bunker. And then the second half of the storm came about five minutes later.

SHAPIRO: And how long did you have to stay there before you were evacuated?

CEPERO: About 2 1/2 days.

SHAPIRO: I know that you are still wrestling with your own experience. But as this storm hits the Carolinas - and millions of people are under evacuation orders there - what message do you have for them?

CEPERO: There is no words to describe the power of the ocean. And I usually blow this stuff off and - ah, don't be ridiculous. It's going to be fine. (Laughter) Stupidest decision of my life. I can't believe I'm alive. These people have got to take things seriously. Just get the hell out.

SHAPIRO: Alex Cepero, I'm so glad that you're OK and your dogs as well.

CEPERO: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.