By Barrington M. Salmon, NNPA Newswire Contributor
Hurricane Dorian mystified meteorologists and weather experts from the time it become a hurricane. The public was informed that data models showed it taking a trek across the Caribbean and slamming into Florida. But the monster storm defied all expectations and instead, punished the Bahamas and skipped Florida altogether.
For almost two days, the Category 5 hurricane – with winds clocked at 185 miles an hour with wind gusts of more than 200 miles an hour – hovered over Abaco and the northern portion of Grand Bahama and savaged them. The hurricane dumped more than 30 inches of rain and triggered a storm surge as high as 23 feet, leaving more than 13,000 homes damaged or destroyed, said government officials and the Red Cross.
Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis said in a press conference that although the storm targeted only a small section of the Bahamas, it still inflicted “generational devastation.” He said the official death toll is 43 but he and Minister of Health Dr. Duane Sands say they expect that number to go much higher.
Dr. Paul Hunt is a pediatrician and the only allergy specialist in the Bahamas, who has lived there since 1990 and maintains an office in Freeport and Nassau. As news continues to trickle in about the deaths, the extent of the widespread damage and the disruption to people’s lives, he said he’s heartbroken. He’s fortunate, Dr. Hunt said, because he and his family were in Nassau when the storm hit and his home is not damaged.
But his thoughts go often to those who’ve lost relatives and friends, who’re coping with loss and struggling to come to terms with the damage wrought by the hurricane.
“I’m just numb,” said Dr. Hunt, a husband and father of three. “The gut-wrenching thing is my patients. I have a patient who I looked after since he was two and I just heard that a storm surge swept away him and two of his children, the youngest aged two. He’s lost and presumed dead.”
All over the country, Bahamians joined hands to help the thousands left helpless, providing food, water and shelter for the legion of suddenly homeless people left without shelter or possessions. Celebrities like Rihanna, Ludacris, Bethanny Frankel, Tyler Perry and companies including the Disney Company and Disney Cruise Lines and Royal Caribbean Cruise Line have donated money, food and supplies, while Norwegian Cruise Lines, Bacardi and Lowe’s are each contributing $1 million to disaster relief.
Bahamian government officials told the media that US Coast Guard helicopters have been flying across the string of barrier islands looking for survivors while on the ground, members of the Royal Bahamas Defense Force, police officers, coroners, investigators and search and rescue teams are scouring Abaco and other islands in the north of the archipelago assisting survivors, aiding the injured and removing the dead.
Some bodies were transported to Rand Memorial Hospital in Nassau and others placed temporarily in refrigerated trucks.
“… We acknowledge that there are many missing and the number of deaths is expected to significantly increase,” said Dr. Minnis in a Sept. 6 statement. “This is one of the stark realities we face in this hour of darkness. The loss of life we’re experiencing is catastrophic and devastating. The grief we bear as a country begins with families who have lost loved ones.
“We meet them in this time of sorrow with open arms and walk by their sides in this time of sorrow every step of the way.”
Across social media, people watched videos, talked to survivors and saw pictures showing the utter devastation wreaked by the hurricane. One video shot by an unnamed member of parliament showed parts of his flooded house and dark water lapping against his living room and kitchen windows which are about 15-20 feet above the ground.
Thousands of people have been displaced and are trapped in “rapidly deteriorating” conditions in the most devastated areas of the Bahamas, said an official of the UN’s World Food Program on Saturday. Charity and aid organizations have been rushing emergency aid and supplies, workers and money to the storm-battered islands but the effort has been hampered by the sheer size of the affected areas and a raft of logistical problems.
But in a National Emergency Management Agency briefing, NEMA officials announced several new measures governing evacuations of the residents still on Abaco. Among the provisions: There is no mandatory evacuation order for Abaco because evacuation is strictly mandatory; 3,500 people are slated to be evacuated to Nassau; public and private partners are flying residents out, including Bahamas Air, Delta, Western Air and other private partners. Ferries and private boaters are also involved in the evacuation effort; all evacuations are free; those who decide to stay on Abaco are being provided with temporary housing; search and recovery is still being conducted, particularly in Marsh Harbour.
A 50-member team from the US Agency for International Development/Office of US Foreign Disaster Assistance worked with Royal Bahamas Defence Force to conduct a systematic sweep of the island as recovery teams are still searching for survivors, locating bodies and checking for hazardous material. The Caribbean Community has sent soldiers to help with security. For example, there are 33 Jamaica Defence Force officers and 122 officers from Trinidad and Tobago who will be helping in securing operations.
Royal Caribbean is providing 10-20,000 meals per day to people in Grand Bahama. NEMA is augmenting these hot meals with non-perishable relief supplies. Hands for Hunger and World Central Kitchen will distribute 2,000 hot meals to people in Little Abaco beginning on Sept. 9. And the World Food Program and Samaritan’s Purse are distributing 12,000 meals ready to eat to 1,000 families in Marsh Harbour.
Dr. Hunt said Bahamians have embarked on what promises to be a long and difficult process of recovery but he said he’s confident the island nation will rebound.
“Our beloved island of Grand Bahama took a pounding and there is a lot of hurting,” he wrote on Facebook. “My heart goes out to the families of those with loved ones who have lost their lives, several of who were well known to me. The destruction in Abaco was catastrophic and gut wrenching … I will be returning to Freeport shortly to do my part in trying to alleviate some of the suffering and help in the rebuilding of our Island. We in Grand Bahama have faced and conquered many obstacles that have been placed in our path. We will not be undone by Hurricane Dorian and we all will emerge from this collective experience stronger, wiser and more united.”