Hurricane Dorian devastates my Bahamaland

Hurricane

I have written many commentaries decrying the way natural disasters often befall those least able to cope. But this time it’s personal. 

From CNN, August 31: Hurricane Dorian has wind speeds of [185 mph and gusts of 225 mph], making it the strongest hurricane in modern records [as it bears down on the northwestern Bahama islands of Abaco and Grand Bahama]. … 

“‘Catastrophic conditions’ are [already] occurring … ‘This is a life-threatening situation.’… 

Prime Minister Hubert Minnis called for residents of those places to leave for shelters in the central Bahamas.” 

My birthplace 

I was born in Lake City, Abaco and grew up in Freeport, Grand Bahama. Both islands are so small (and therefore vulnerable) that the icon for the eye on maps tracking this hurricane completely covered them. This should have made it easy to appreciate the damage 30 inches of rainfall and 23-foot storm surges would do, especially given that both islands are as flat as pancakes. 

I have six siblings and hundreds of relatives and friends still living in Freeport. When Dorian landed, they felt like they were living on an inflatable raft adrift in choppy seas with a pod of blue whales breaching nearby – continuously, mercilessly just to heighten their impending doom.

The media was having a field day. News outlets cover natural disasters purportedly as a public service. But there’s no denying that such coverage is a ratings boon for their bottom line – catering as it does to the perverse thrill of suspense that keeps us fixated on the hype of impending doom. 

The strongest ever 

Everybody is reeling from the devastation this Category 5 hurricane is slowly leaving in its wake. It is the strongest to ever hit any of the hurricane-prone Bahama islands.

Water, water everywhere, And the land becomes a sea; Water, water everywhere, And the car becomes a ski. 

From the Nassau Guardian, September 2: “As Hurricane Dorian continued its painstakingly slow and destructive trek across parts of Grand Bahama today, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis said The Bahamas cannot defend itself against the catastrophic storm, which has already caused widespread damage [utterly destroying over 13,000 homes and flooding the international airport with over 5-feet of water] and is still in attack mode. 

“…The  Nassau Guardian understands that the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) officials has received a barrage of calls requesting immediate help from Grand Bahama residents who are trapped in their homes. … ‘They’re basically sitting in a fish tank looking out at the water hitting the windows.” 

Meanwhile, Abaco looked like a war-ravaged city after Dorian moved on and the water receded. And Grand Bahama will look even worse at after it moves on and the water recedes there too. 

My heart went out to Prime Minister Minnis as I watched him pleading for people to seek shelter. Because I knew his call would fall mostly on deaf ears. 

What more to do? 

To be fair, most Bahamians knew that heeding his call would be tantamount to the little pig who built his house with straw seeking shelter with the one who built his with sticks. But given Dorian’s strength and our geographical vulnerabilities, there was only so much even houses of brick could withstand. 

Yet, reports are that people were scampering about Abaco, seeking shelter in sturdier buildings, when it became clear their homes would not stand. This is how the first reported death (of seven-year-old Lachino McIntosh) occurred.

But the death toll is bound to rise. Not to mention the ironic, if not incomprehensible, fact that most Bahamians can’t swim. 

Phones still worked

It was truly remarkable (and encouraging) that, even during the worst of Dorian’s battering, many people never lost mobile service. I was placed in the awkward position of having to explain why one of my sisters was posting selfies on Facebook in the midst of it all. (I couldn’t.) 

On the other hand, only God knows what Minnis was thinking when he called on the 73,000 residents in the northwestern Bahamas to seek shelter in the central Bahamas. He clearly did not give a moment’s thought to how they would do so. 

I could not help breaking out in gallows laughter when a concerned American friend asked if (we) ever received evacuation orders. Her concern coincided with governors of states along the Eastern Seaboard of the United States ordering mandatory evacuations for coastal residents to shelter “100 miles inland.” 

Evacuate to where? 

Issuing an evacuation order in the Caribbean to escape a hurricane is rather like issuing an evacuation order in China to escape the smog. Where the hell would they go? After all, if people on most islands were to evacuate 100 miles inland, they’d end up either in the Caribbean Sea or the Atlantic Ocean. 

Which brings me to my abiding vexation about natural disasters preying on the most vulnerable.

Dorian not only unleashed its full wrath on the Bahama islands, but it did so for a torturous 36 hours. By confounding contrast, it will not only spare Florida (landing only what will amount to a wet kiss), but won’t even stick around long enough to see Floridians breathe a collective sigh of relief. 

Beyond this, the small and poor islands of the Caribbean serve as a buffer every hurricane season to lessen impacts on the big and rich United States of America. What else but some perverse form of natural retribution explains this? 

Massive U.S evacuations 

Incidentally, as was the case with Hurricane Matthew,  authorities in Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina issued evacuation orders for 1.5 million people – even though Dorian is tracking to land only a glancing blow on their Atlantic coasts, respectively.

Granted, listening to reporters hype this forecast, you’d think Dorian were tracking to devastate these states with twice the wrath it unleashed on the Bahama islands. But can you think of anything more vexing than Dorian sparing President Donald Trump’s infamous Mar-A-Lago estate in Florida after destroying the humble homes of so many poor folks in The Bahamas? 

It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature. But it seems fair to call her a fool for continually unleashing her full wrath on the meek who are supposed to inherit the earth. 

Please give! 

My website is ad-free because I don’t want my opinions tainted in any way by money-grubbing motivations, which determine content on virtually every other site. This is why I am even loath to solicit donations for worthy causes. I have only done so a few times in 15 years – most notably in 2008 in the aftermath of Hurricane Ike, which devastated my mother country of the Turks and Caicos Islands.

As I did back then, I am begging for any donation you can give to help the people of The Bahamas recover. The easiest and most reliable way to do so is to donate to The Bahamas Red Cross: Thank you! 

Help desperately needed 

Like many Americans, many Bahamians live paycheck to paycheck and have little or no savings to draw on. They will be hard-pressed to afford food to eat, let alone supplies to rebuild. 

Incidentally, I am posting this commentary while international media have you focused on The Bahamas. Local officials fear nobody will care once the media begin covering Dorian as it teases up the Florida coast. 

In the meantime, I suspect no words can offer my compatriots greater  comfort and hope than these lines from our national anthem: 

Lift up your head to the rising sun, Bahamaland; March on to glory, your bright banners waving high. See how the world marks the manner of your bearing! Pledge to excel through love and unity.


Anthony L. Hall is a native of The Bahamas with an international law practice in Washington, D.C. Read his columns and daily weblog at www.theipinionsjournal.com.

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