- story by Lisa Monti, photos by Ellis Anderson
A Bay St. Louis couple is hosting a family from the Bahamas whose baby daughter was born in Florida a day after they lost everything to Hurricane Dorian.
Gretchen and Roger Caplinger had owned a home for 10 years on Great Guana Cay, a sparsely populated narrow islet in the Abaco Islands. “We lost it in Dorian, along with 70,000 other people,” she said of their home.
The Caplingers’ longtime caretaker, Tacuma Balfour, looked after their property and prepared it to perfection ahead of their visits. They consider him and his wife Shamell, who worked as a cook at an island resort, part of their family.
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Just before the hurricane devastated the Bahamas, Tacuma and Shamell went to Freeport to be near her doctor and the hospital where Shamell was due to give birth any day. Gretchen said, “They were staying with friends. They didn’t realize the storm was approaching."
After the storm made landfall, the couple tried to evacuate on a cruise ship but weren’t able to board because of the overwhelming number of people trying to leave the islands. Roger was able to get them on a private plane for a flight to Florida.
Shamell was already in labor so the Caplingers arranged for friends in Florida to meet the couple when the plane landed, get them through Customs and take Shamell straight to a hospital.
Within hours, their daughter Nyluh was born, tiny but healthy. Baby Nyluh is “doing fine. She’s beautiful,” Gretchen said.
All Shamell had was what she had packed in a small suitcase for the hospital. Tacuma had nothing but the clothes he was wearing. Like thousands of Bahamians, they lost not only their home but their livelihood to Dorian.
During their short time in Bay St. Louis, the couple is trying to get accustomed to life here. “It’s their first time ever off the island,” Gretchen said.
The couple expressed their gratitude to the community, although Tacuma says he longs to be helping with recovery efforts back on the island. Asked if they felt homesick, Shamell looked down at Nyluh and smiled. “Wherever she is, is our home,” she said.
Elise Deano, a friend of the Caplingers, has been organizing fundraisers and coordinating donations made to the family. Gretchen expressed thanks to the community for its “outpouring of love and generous support” to their visitors.
There are a couple of ways to help out the family.
- Monetary gifts are welcome and a fund has been set up for the family at The Peoples Bank in the names of Baby Lyluh and Gretchen Caplinger.
- On Saturday, Nov. 2, a combination baby shower and open house to meet and greet Nyluh and her family will be held at 2 p.m. at Starfish Cafe.