There Will Be More – And More Frequent – Dorians. Can The Islands In Their Path Survive?

Sep 2, 2019

Hurricane Dorian is predicted to finally leave the Bahamas Tuesday after spending two days wrecking - and in many places drowning -  the islands of Abaco and Grand Bahama.

WLRN’s Sundial host Luis Hernandez spoke with Americas editor Tim Padgett about the Bahamas devastation – and the urgent need to help make South Florida’s island neighbors more resilient to monster storms.

Excerpts from their conversation:

HERNANDEZ: Tim, this is the strongest recorded storm to hit the Bahamas. What do we know so far about the damage?

PADGETT: The damage is greatest so far, anyway, on Abaco island. That's where the hurricane made landfall, at Marsh Harbour – a town there that is now, for all intents and purposes, under water, because along with the Category 5 wind coming ashore you had about 20-foot storm surge.

Keep in mind the Bahamas are all very much at sea level. So you had whole neighborhoods, whole towns as I said in Marsh Harbour’s case, being submerged. And that raises a lot of other fears – for example, what happens to people who get caught in that surge? It becomes very hard to find them. It just creates layer upon layer of tragedy.

READ MORE: Dominica PM: Hurricane-Ravaged Caribbean Can Build 'Climate-Resilient' Islands

You just kind of laid out for us what the Bahamas are like, and so when storms come through it just rolls over the area. For the most part they, I mean the Bahamas, have been hit quite a bit because they're standing out there. Are they prepared for anything like this or not? Granted, this is the strongest recorded storm that's ever hit them. But are they prepared for these kind of things?

They're better prepared than they were, say, a generation ago. And, I think, that goes for most of the islands out in the Atlantic and the Caribbean. You have seen better building codes established; they've been trying to replicate what they see in Florida, for example. The problem is I don't think any of these small – and, let's face it, these developing countries don't have the resources. I don't really think you can expect them to be prepared for the back-to-back pummeling they've been taking over the past decade.

I mean, let's not forget it was only three years ago that the Bahamas had a similar hurricane like this come through – Hurricane Matthew, remember? It was almost as strong, and there's an eerie déjà vu there because it was going to hit us, went through the Bahamas, and then took that northward turn and went along the Florida coast. So it's very eerie in that regard.

Every time I talk to a prime minister from a Caribbean island, the point they always make is: Look, we have very little responsibility for the greenhouse emissions that create global warming, but yet we take the brunt of the suffering in the form of these more powerful storms.

Is it easy or difficult to get off the islands? A few days ago they were calling for their evacuation.

Right. On Friday, the Prime Minister, Hubert Minnis, started calling for massive evacuation of all those several islands – and we forget that there are more than 700 islands in the Bahamas archipelago, and many of them are just very tiny. And you've got to get those people off those islands and onto the bigger islands when a major storm like this comes because a storm of this power – and we'll see probably in the aftermath of this one – a lot of those small islands that people were evacuated from onto Abaco and Grand Bahama may not even be there anymore or at least livable anymore.

So that's how urgent it is to have that kind of massive evacuation that they had over the weekend.

Have we heard anything new from the Prime Minister?

He was pretty distraught. In fact, according to the Bahamian media he gave a press conference at which he was in tears saying this was the worst day of his life.

LITTLE BAHAMAS

I've already heard of groups that are starting to collect or will begin collecting supplies and relief for the Bahamas right away.

A Bahamian baby sleeps on a cot as she and her family wait out Hurricane Dorian at a shelter in Freeport, Grand Bahama in the Bahamas.
Credit AP

Well, you've already seen the hashtag #BahamaStrong become a fixture on social media. And you're seeing the city of Miami and Miami-Dade County coordinate with, for example, the local Bahamian community here, the churches in Coconut Grove, and in the area known as Little Bahamas they are starting relief efforts now – particularly because we've all here in South Florida, we’ve all been shopping for the past week for supplies because we thought we were going to get hit. Well, we're not going to get hit. So we got all the supplies – give ‘em to the Bahamas.

We're seeing storms grow in power, in intensity. Then you have islands like the Bahamas but also the Caribbean becoming more vulnerable. How much more urgent is it now to make these communities more resilient?

Oh, I think it's more urgent than ever. Every time I talk to, say, a prime minister from a Caribbean island like Dominica, for example, that got hit so hard back in 2017 by both [Hurricanes] Maria and Irma, the point they always make is that, look, we have very little responsibility for the greenhouse emissions that create global warming, but yet we take the brunt of the suffering in the form of these more powerful hurricanes. Because the Caribbean and the Bahamas are like a bowling alley for most of these powerful storms in recent years.

We have got to start making these islands more resilient or – unless something is done to make them more of a bulwark against these kinds of storms, we're going to see them disappear.

COMPLETE COVERAGE: Hurricane Dorian