Blog by Jo Farrow
4th September 2019 11:07

What next for the northern Bahamas, after Hurricane Dorian?

As the first relief efforts arrive in the northern Bahamas and other agencies get in place nearby, the UN has just urged the international community to stand ready to help in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian, which looks to have crushed Abaco and Grand Bahama. “The United Nations would continue supporting the Government-led ongoing rescue and relief efforts. “

As Dorian remained stationary over Grand Bahama earlier this week as a Category 5 (the most powerful) hurricane, terms of catastrophic winds and devastating storm surge were set against sickening imagery of the large eye stuck over the northern Bahamian Islands. Cars were seen floating by, the main airport under feet of water, people forced up into their roof rafters with waves hitting the eves. The NEMA (National Emergency Management Agency) contact boards are full of people asking for friends and family to get in touch with communications highly impacted and electricity supplies severed. Wells for freshwater supplies are submerged with saltwater, if any buildings have survived and not been flattered, then the roofs are gone and seawater mixing with sewage has inundated everything, including the main hospital.

The advice for hours and days was just to stay inside and shelter, even if people thought about venturing out into the relative calm of the eye. All the time with winds up to 185mph, that is sustained winds, not gusts. The highest ever wind speed recorded in the UK was 173mph at the top of Cairngorm, a gust ( a sudden temporary higher burst of wind) in 1986, not hours and hours for island populated areas with the sea rising.

A storm surge “as much as 18 to 23 feet above normal tide levels in areas of onshore winds on Grand Bahama Island.” That’s six metres. The height of a tall giraffe.

What next when Dorian finally does move on. There is already been State of Emergency declared for Florida Georgia and the Carolinas and Virginia, anticipating Dorians’ northward turn and predicted path close to the SE coast

NHC dorian path

International relief efforts were flagged up last week, processes start, mapping requested, satellites focus on the area, military support adjusting its course. The forecast for Dorian was clear but no-one could have realised how long it was going to just sit over Grand Bahama. Until that danger has passed, the observers and investigators couldn't get into survey what is needed nor the initial medical help to transport the injured to other hospitals.

The paler bright blue is seawater, the darker areas land. By mapping the waters, levels can be compared to see when finally they begin to recede.

"Unconfirmed media reports from Abaco indicate badly damaged roofing and downed power lines, with some roads all but impassable.  Data from the Pacific Disaster Center shows a potential need for 222,000 litres of water per day. Reports that Abaco has suffered catastrophic damage and that there are casualties which have yet to be confirmed.  The NEMA indicates that there are reports of massive flooding in Grand Bahama as well. The Grand Bahama International Airport is said to be underwater." (OCHA, 2 Sep 2019) "the potable water supply “has been compromised”.

Map of north Bahamas populated areas

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Before Dorian arrived local authorities were reporting that 73,000 residents and 21,000 homes could be affected in Grand Bahama, Abaco island and the surrounding cays. You can see from the map above that the populated areas are mainly towards the SW, Grand Bahamas location relative to Abaco and the Cays. And from the map below where the higher areas are.

As Dorian finally heads away north, people on the islands stagger to assess their surroundings. Some will be injured, in shock, missing, dead. The utter devastation around will be sickening, the landscape unrecognisable. Injuries need treatment, some people have already been lifted by US helicopter or Bahamian rescue seaplanes, local boats and even jetskis. There will be care for others, worry and still plenty of danger. Unsafe buildings and flooding, dirty water, lack of clean drinking water and so the risk of disease. Power lines will be down, the risk of electrocution, and gas supplies ruptured, the sense of isolation, panic and despair with a lack of communication.

Every year the Royal Navy deploys ships to the Caribbean ahead of hurricane season.  They are sent to the region during the hurricane season as a standby to provide disaster relief. Around this time two years ago. the UK military arrived in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. Helicopters such as the Wildcat take bottled water and food to islands and engineers start work restoring power and probably getting the airport open again so air supplies can resume. Many roads are still submerged with cars strewn everywhere.

Bahamian tax law "Rebuilding after Hurricane Irma - The goods are building materials, electrical fixtures and materials, plumbing fixtures and materials, household furniture, furnishing and appliances, bottled water and generators. Tax free in 2017"

Bahamas Red Cross volunteers and pre-positioned relief supplies—such as tarps, hygiene items, jerrycans, and hand-crank cell phone chargers—are at the ready.

It is said that patience is needed after any disaster, just to wait for things to slowly improve, so hope too. For the communities to regroup, news to filter through and small signs of a way forward and of recovery.   This won't be the last hurricane for the Bahamas but so far Dorian has been the most powerful for the islands and the sight of that stationary Cat. 5 eye, from above on the satellite imagery will long be remembered. The months and years ahead will be hard work on the ground. 

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