Hours before Hurricane Dorian pounded the Bahamas and obliterated entire neighbourhoods, Alishia Sabrina Liolli asked her friends and loved ones on social media to pray for her family and the small island she called home.
“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t terrified; but the dogs, chickens, husband & children are inside and everything is batted down the best we could!” the 27-year-old Ontario woman wrote on Facebook at 11:42 p.m. on Saturday, just before the full thrust of the storm hit. “I love you all — please pray for our Bahamasland, especially our Abaco. We will keep everyone updated as best we can!”
In the hours and days since Dorian hit, her friends and family desperately tried to reach Liolli, fearing the worst.
On Thursday, Liolli was confirmed to be one of at least 20 people killed during the storm.
Liolli’s family took to social media to express their shock and sadness at the news.
“Can’t believe this is real … a life taken too soon,” her cousin, Aislinn Liolli, said in a Facebook post. “I lost my best friend, my confidante, my rock, my person. Alishia you were a ray of sunshine, always grateful, would give the shirt off your back to anyone. You made the world a better place.”
Alishia was “always smiling, always joking, able to make anyone feel better,” Aislinn Liolli said.
Childhood friend Alysha Cardinale-Soderberg said she was “numb” after hearing about Liolli’s death.
“I just don’t know how to deal with it,″ she said in a telephone interview with The Canadian Press.
Alishia Sabrina Liolli grew up in a small town near Windsor, Ont., and met Cardinale-Soderberg when the two were nine years old.
The pair was inseparable — going to elementary school and high school together before parting ways for university.
Watch: Here’s how the Bahamas have been impacted by Hurricane Dorian. Story continues below.
Ryan McKenna, another friend, said he first met Liolli at Toronto’s Ryerson University. As a residence adviser and slightly older than the incoming first-year students, Alishia was the de facto leader of the floor at Pittman Hall, a student residence at the university, McKenna said.
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“I always called her ‘mom,’” he said. “She was always looking after me, an 18-year-old kid from P.E.I in the big city for the first time.”
McKenna said Liolli was a motherly figure to other students at Ryerson.
“She was a calming influence and somebody who always tried to encourage unity on our floor,” he said. “She organized the first movie night, got everyone to go out for dinner together. She was always trying to unify the group and she did a great job of it.”
Cardinale-Soderberg said she took on the residence adviser role to “be there for them.”
“She was a helpful soul,” she said through tears.
Liolli moved to the Bahamas in 2013 to volunteer at Every Child Counts, a vocational school that helps children with autism. She later helped build a new school with the organization and has since been running the program that helps adults with autism.
In a promotional video for the school, Liolli talks about her work.
“The vision of our school from the beginning has been to foster a mentality where people of different abilities are accepted and integrated into their community to the best of their potential,” she says.
The school was located in Marsh Harbour, a small town on the Abaco Islands in the Bahamas, where Liolli also lived with her husband and four children.
“She found love there,” her friend Cardinale-Soderberg said. The youngest, a boy, was born 17 months ago, she said.
Her husband and the children all survived, Cardinale-Soderberg said.
The family has launched a GoFundMe campaign to raise money to bring Liolli’s body to Canada, Cardinale-Soderberg said. Any extra money raised would be used to help rebuild the school where she worked, which was heavily damaged in the storm.
Hurricane Dorian continues to pummel the east coast of the United States and is expected to hit Canada’s Atlantic provinces by the weekend.