An Ormond, Florida woman has no words for the horrific thoughts that raced through her mind during the 17 hours her and six friends were locked in a bathroom during Hurricane Dorian, which descended upon the Bahamas as a rare category 5 last week.

“I thought I was going to die,” Maggie Rende said through tears as she sat on her tan couch in Ormond-by-the-Sea this past weekend. “I can’t tell you the things that you think about when you just think you’re going to die.”

Rende, 66, searched for words to describe the thoughts that raced through her mind during the 17 hours she and six friends huddled in a 5-foot-by-8-foot bathroom in the middle of a home on a tiny island in the Bahamas, as Hurricane Dorian lashed them with Category 5 winds a week ago.

Slowly, the house around them disintegrated. The 185-mph winds whipped debris at the bathroom's walls, What remained of the roof rattled and lifted up with every wind gust. Rain and water from the storm surge began to seep through a crack in the wall near the floor. Rende and the others couldn’t leave, no one was coming to get them and the storm crawled over them at just 1 mph.

But Rende and the others survived. Four days after the storm passed, she was able to catch a ride back to Florida on a cargo plane, and then to her home in Ormond-by-the-Sea. Now that she’s home with her husband, Stephen, Rende said she feels guilt that she was able to get out of the Bahamas while her friends were left behind to struggle.

“I can’t eat without feeling guilty,” she said as the tears flowed. “It was total devastation everywhere. It felt like a bomb had just gone off, like an atom bomb. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie that looked that bad.”

Rende owned Sandpiper Title in Palm Coast, and recently opened Professional Title in Palm Coast. She and her husband, who works in construction, have split their time between Florida and Green Turtle Cay in the Bahamas for the past 30 years.

In August, Rende flew to the Bahamas to pack up personal belongings and to put their bright blue, 800-square-foot beachfront house up for sale. Their children are all grown and they wanted to use the money they usually spend flying to their second home to fund adventures to new places. They knew if they wanted to visit Green Turtle Cay, they could always stay with friends they developed over the years on the island that is just 3 miles long and a half-mile wide.

In late August, as Dorian approached, Rende wasn't greatly concerned. She'd stayed in 2011 when Category 4 Hurricane Irene blew through. She decided to stay again. But she was fearful of staying alone in her beachfront home. On Sunday, Sept. 1, she went to the home of some friends that was located in the middle of the island. Dorian was still a day away. 

“When you hear that you’re going to have 35-foot water surge, no one is going to want to stay with you, and I didn’t want to stay by myself,” Rende said.

READ MORE: Deadly Hurricane Dorian parks itself over the Bahamas

Dorian descends

Rende's friends are Godfrey “Gully” and Francis “Fanny” McIntosh. Their home is at the center of Green Turtle Cay, located just to the east of Great Abaco Island. The McIntosh's home sits next to the Amy Roberts Primary School, a designated hurricane shelter.

That Sunday morning, as Dorian approached, Rende spoke to her husband. Even then, she wasn’t concerned about the storm.

Early that afternoon, Rende made a lunch of ham, eggs and potatoes for her friends, their three grandchildren, and 78-year-old Robertha Russell, who also was staying in the home. Rain and wind started to pound the island as they sat on the porch and ate what would be their last meal for the next 17 hours. The trees blew back and forth.

"At about 1:45, I said to my girlfriend that I think we need to go inside,” Rende recalled.

At 2 p.m., the sky changed to an ominous black. The wind accelerated and rain lashed the house. At 2:05 p.m., the shutter in the dining room flew off the house. Before they could get another piece of wood to cover the window, it blew out, sending shards of glass throughout the room.

The roof began to lift off, the walls fell away and the whole house started to fall apart. By 2:15 p.m. they were huddled in the bathroom located in the middle of the home.

All Rende had in her possession were the pajamas on her back, a pair of flip-flops and a small pink fanny pack that contained her cellphone, passport and glasses.

Needless to say, the bathroom was crowded with seven people in it. Most of the time, Rende sat on the toilet seat. But they kept switching it up. Sometimes, Rende sat on the floor. Other times, she was in the bathtub.

This bathtub felt like it was moving as rain began to seep in between the wall and the bathtub.

“When I was in the bathtub, you know how it is when you’re going up a roller coaster to get to the top?” she asked. “Well that’s the way it felt, but five times that speed. It was just constant. I thought for sure that wall was getting ripped off because the water was now coming in right at the seam of where the tile and the bathtub met.”

Everyone was eventually soaked from the water seeping in through the floor, and pouring in from above whenever gusts of wind lifted the roof.

And yes, over the course of 17 hours everyone had to use the bathroom. Everyone would turn around to give the user privacy. But the toilet couldn't flush. Eventually the bathroom took on the odor of an outhouse.

“The whole time during the day you could see the roof lift up and you could see stuff flying and the rain and the wind and then the roof would go down,” Rende said. “I kept thinking of the stupid movie 'Twister,' where the cow was flying and I kept thinking I don’t want to be flying around like this.”

They held hands, they prayed and sang Christian church songs. Someone occasionally sobbed, wondering if they would survive it. Then it went dark, and Dorian continued to lash the island.

To Rende, it was a miracle that the bathroom remained largely intact.

“I just didn't think that something could sustain that many hours when the rest of the house was gone,” she said. “Why was this room and this roof, which was connected to the rest of the house, not gone?”

At some point during the night, there was a brief lull in the wind and rain. Gully McIntosh and his 14-year-old granddaughter, Shaunna Saunders, peeked their heads out to see if the family's small shop 20 feet away was still standing. It was. They decided to venture out to it.

The storm began to pick up again. After a few minutes, Fanny McIntosh opened the bathroom door and saw that the shop was gone.

“We thought they were gone,” Rende recalled through tears. “For about an hour, we sat in the bathroom crying because we thought we had lost two people.”

Then there was a knock on the bathroom door.  It turned out that Gully and Shaunna had made it back, and had hunkered down in a closet attached to the other side of the bathroom.

“I’ve never been so scared in my whole life,” Rende said.

At 7 a.m. on Monday, Sept. 2, they couldn’t take it anymore. They linked arms and made the journey across the street in the wind whipping rain to Amy Roberts Primary School. Many of them didn’t have shoes on and only had the soaked clothes on their backs as they dodged debris on the road including a barbed wire fence that had been ripped from the island’s water tower.

To their dismay, most of the school's roof had caved in and the floors were flooded. The 25 people who had sheltered in the school had moved from room to room as the roof fell in around them. Everyone was soaked, but thankfully they had food prepared that they shared with the newcomers to the group. Rende felt guilty taking it when she had nothing herself to give.

All day Monday and Tuesday they sat in water at the school as Dorian continued to pound them. Rende said she barely slept, and when she did nod off she was jolted awake by something hitting the side of the school. It wasn’t until Tuesday night that people felt comfortable venturing out.

Coming home

Tuesday and Wednesday night Rende was able to stay in her own home, which as it turned out had only partially flooded. At night, she got some much-needed sleep. She spent the daylight hours trying to find a way back to Florida.

The U.S. Coast Guard had arrived, but was only taking the sick and injured, and Rende was afraid of trying to make her way via boat to the airport on nearby Treasure Cay — which is part of Great Abaco Island — and getting stuck there.

The first message Rende was able to get to her husband was through a transcribed radio transmission Wednesday. It stated: “I’m okay. Send someone to get me ASAP.”

“I know how she sounded from the text,” Stephen Rende said. “From that point on, I started with the helicopters and the boats trying to get someone over there to get her.”

Rende was eventually able to connect with an aide worker from Island Time Cargo who promised her a ride back to Florida on their plane. Thursday afternoon, she hopped on a boat from Green Turtle Cay over to Treasure Cay and the airport.

The cargo plane departed for Palm Beach International Airport on Thursday night carrying Rende and 11 other people from the island who had survived Dorian. All Rende had was her phone, a phone charger, her little pink bag with her passport, and a dress to change into once she made it to the United States.

“The two guys that helped me get on the plane stayed behind because there wasn’t enough room,” she said.

Her phone still had 2 percent battery power left from the day Dorian hit Green Turtle Cay, and Rende was able to call her husband as the plane descended into West Palm Beach. After she landed, her friends Kathy and Jeff Baumann picked her up and drove her to their nearby home, while Stephen Rende drove down from Ormond-by-the-Sea.

“Of course we were just elated, but still really emotional just knowing what she had to go through," Kathy Baumann said. “I’m sure she will have stress forever and I’m worried about our other friends that we haven’t heard from.”

Baumann said it’s a miracle that Rende was able to catch a ride back to Florida when so many weren’t able to find transportation.

“It was unbelievable. We didn’t know where the plane would land or where to pick her up,” Baumann said. “We made a sign, and she came off this crazy looking cargo plane. It was overwhelming.”

The first thing Rende did when she got to the Baumann’s home was grab a glass of wine and head to the shower so she could clean up before her husband arrived.

“I was still in the shower when he got there,” Rende said. “I could hear his feet pounding up the stairs.”

Now, all Rende wants to do is help those still on Green Turtle Cay. She has organized a gofundme page, "Families in Need," to help rebuild the McIntosh and Russell homes, as well as provide aid to the more than 500 residents on the island. As far as she knows, no one on the island died in the storm.

“The thing that really scared me into coming home is we had no radios, no phone service, no water and no electricity,” she said. “We are just starting the peak of hurricane season. If another one came through, they won’t survive.”

READ MORE: Hurricane Dorian: Volusia relief efforts focus on Bahamas

Rende credits her survival to the prayers she and others made during the most horrific hours of her life.

“I am here by the grace of God,” Rende said, crying. “Now that I’m here, I don’t know when or if I can ever go back.”

“It was nothing you ever want to put yourself into. I don’t care if a hurricane Category 1 is coming this way. I’m not staying.”

This story originally published to news-journalonline.com, and was shared to other Florida newspapers in the GateHouse Media network via the Florida Wire. The Florida Wire, which runs across digital, print and video platforms, curates and distributes Florida-focused stories. For more Florida stories, visit here, and to support local media throughout the state of Florida, consider subscribing to your local paper.