The Bahamas Is Recovering From One Of The Strongest Atlantic Hurricanes On Record – Its Hard – Forbes

Posted: December 18, 2019 at 8:54 pm

The holiday season is a time of joy, celebration, and reflection. I am scientist and one of Forbes contributors in the weather and climate space. However, I am human being before any of those titles, and lately the Bahamas have been on my mind. During early September 2019, Hurricane Dorian ravaged the islands of Abaco and Grand Bahama with Category 5 intensity. According to the Congressional Research Service report updated in October, the official death toll was 53 with 600 people still missing. A more recent estimate of the death toll placed the number at 62 with just under 300 people missing. According to the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), 60% of the structured on both islands were severely compromised or completely damaged. Many Bahamians evacuated to Florida and other places. I wanted to use this platform to shine some holiday light on the Bahamas during this challenging time.

GRAND BAHAMAS, BAHAMAS - SEPTEMBER 10: General view of Marsh Harbour aftermath of Hurricane Dorian ... [+] on September 10, 2019 in Grand Bahama, Bahamas. The official death toll has risen in the time since to 50 people, but authorities have cautioned that number is likely to rise significantly as workers make their way through the ruins. (Photo by Alejandro Granadillo/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

As a meteorologist watching the storm, I knew that it was going to be a dire situation and had an ache in my stomach about it the entire time. The storm literally parked itself over the Bahamas. Professor Anthony Didlake, Jr. is a meteorology expert at Penn State University. He said in a University press release, This was an extremely terrible scenario for a landfalling hurricane....a powerful Category 5 hurricane that also featured slow movement as it made landfall. The European Unions Sentinel-1 Copernicus instrument collected data from space that was processed to show areas of significant damage (red and yellow) days after the storm.

Damage map days after the Bahamas. Map was produced by the Advanced Rapid Imaging and Analysis ... [+] (ARIA) team at NASAs Jet Propulsion Laboratory in collaboration with the European Space Agency, the California Institute of Technology and the Earth Observatory of Singapore.

According to the aforementioned Congressional Research Services (CRS) report, As of September 24, the United States had provided almost $25.8 million in humanitarian funding for the Hurricane Dorian relief efforts in the Bahamas, of which almost $16.3 million is being administered through USAID/OFDA (International Disaster Assistance account), $1 million through the USAID/Office of Food for Peace (emergency food assistance/Title II account), and almost $8.5 million through the Department of Defense (Overseas Humanitarian, Disaster, and Civic Action account). Many other organizations including the United Nations (UN), the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA), and humanitarian non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have also been engaged.

Though the Bahamas is not a territory of the United States like Puerto Rico, the CRS report notes that some members of Congress have expressed interest in the U.S. playing a significant role in the recovery of the Bahamas. Bahamians that fled to the U.S. were not granted Temporary Protected States by the current administration though Congressional members have put forth bills to do so.

Path of Hurricane Dorian (2019)

So what are things like now? According to a report issued by the Inter-American Development Bank, damage from Dorian is estimated at $3.4 billion. The New York Post reports that is equal to about a quarter of the island nations annual economic output. Given this staggering total, it is pretty amazing that the Leonard M. Thompson International Airport in Marsh Harbour received its first international flight on December 13th. Grand Bahama received its first flight in late November. However, many people on the island are still struggling. Much of the disparity in recovery is rooted in concepts of vulnerability, which I have discussed previously in Forbes after flooding ravaged Africa.

Lets review the concept of vulnerability. In an event like Hurricane Dorian or Hurricane Katrina, everyone is exposed to the storm, but some people and infrastructure are more sensitive to the event. Those same people likely have less adaptive capacity or resiliency after the event so are more vulnerable. Jason von Meding, David Prevatt, and Ksenia Chmutina recently wrote this in The Conversation:

Disasters arenot natural events; they are long-term processes of accumulated risk and impact. Yes, nature shows its unyielding force through earthquakes and tsunamis. But in their differential impacts, disasters can actually be seen associal and political manifestations of injustice. In the Bahamas, inequality, poverty, political ideology, class and power relationslead to the buildup of unequal risksthat make some people considerably more vulnerable than others.For every inadequate building, there is a social context. The same phenomenon plays outacross the Caribbean inPuerto Rico,Haiti,Dominica and around the world as aprotracted class divide.

Medical aid volunteers Ashton Kike organizes medical supplies inside cruise ship staterooms aboard ... [+] the Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line's Bahamas Relief Cruise, carrying volunteers and aid before leaving the Port of Palm Beach in West Palm Beach, Florida, for the Bahamas on September 16, 2019. - Tropical storm Humberto gained strength on September 15 and was expected to return to hurricane force by evening, but its track now puts it far from the Bahamas and the US coast, the US National Hurricane Center said. As of midday, Humberto was 180 miles (290 kilometers) northwest of Great Abaco Island, which was devastated two weeks ago by the passage of Hurricane Dorian, and 165 miles northeast of Cape Canaveral, Florida, the NHC said in an update at 15H00 GMT. (Photo by Zak BENNETT / AFP) (Photo credit should read ZAK BENNETT/AFP via Getty Images)

I spoke to a colleague and several college friends with connections to the Bahamas. They have first-hand account of the recovery and vulnerability issues of which academic scholars opine. One friend told me:

Progress is extremely slow and the supplies are being limited to households. A few of my family members have had to relocate to the mainland and some have decided to stay and rebuild. Getting supplies to families has a lot of red tape

Michelle Birnbaum, a Senior Producer at The Weather Channel, visited the islands in October to produce a story for her network. She told me that even two months after the storm that in a lot of ways it looked like it had just happened. She went on to say:

Devastating and heartbreaking but the people are hopeful and determined to stay and rebuild....The roads were cleared of debris, but there was still plenty left that had not yet been touched. Just about everything is gone. The need is still so great. The people were wonderful. We went there with Big Dog Ranch Rescue, The non-profit has been going there with other animal rescues to help find, reunite and/or adopt dogs that survived. The World Central Kitchen is there making thousands of meals everyday, and there are other NGO's as well doing what they can, but unlike mainland US, in the short time I was there I did not see any flurry of activity in cleaning, clearing or starting to rebuild.

A profile on The Weather Channels Facebook page about a brave Bahamian woman was captured by Birnbaum and is a particularly compelling look at what people are enduring under the circumstances. Organizations are still providing meals, and many people are relying on tempory housing or sleeping quarters. The Miami Herald reported in November that water would not be safe to drink until the summer of 2020.

I wrote this article simply as a reminder that the Bahamas (residents, leaders, and stakeholders) and organizations trying to help them still need your support. It is always a useful reminder that cash not stuff is preferred in these situations, and the Center for International Disaster Information explains why at this link. The Bahamas endured one of the two strongest Atlantic hurricanes to make landfall. It is definitely not the time for out of sight, out of mind this holiday season. My college friend Michelle Collie has family ties to the Bahamas. She ends my essay on a positive note, I am prayerful that the families will start to see relief with the national Carrier, Bahamas Air (and other flights), resuming operations.

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The Bahamas Is Recovering From One Of The Strongest Atlantic Hurricanes On Record - Its Hard - Forbes

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