BY ROGAN SMITH
To say Bahamians have experienced absolute hell these past few days would be the understatement of the century.
No one and nothing could have prepared this island nation for the levels of devastation experienced by Hurricane Dorian – a storm that one US weather expert told Eyewitness News was “straight from the gates of hell.”
This storm, with its erratic behavior, has tested the skills of expert meteorologists who have repeatedly had to recant earlier predictions, substituting them with probabilities.
That’s because everything about this record-setting hurricane has been unusual.
This storm swelled from a nameless tropical depression that local meteorologists said had a 50 per cent chance of becoming a “big deal”, to a powerful killer that has claimed lives and left a trail of destruction in its path. The level of devastation has been heartbreaking.
We watched in real time as rising waters swallowed two-story buildings, overturned cars and sent people’s personal property to a watery grave.
Making matters worse, it wouldn’t budge. Earlier, meteorologists said it was moving at 3 miles per hour, basically walking speed. It remained in the same position over Grand Bahama for 12 hours. Even those in New Providence were feeling the effects of a storm that was not even in its direct path.
Bahamians outside of Abaco and Grand Bahama watched helplessly as videos and photos poured in over social media and WhatsApp of their fellow brothers and sisters crying out in fear and agony.
Few will forget the raging waters pouring into homes and shelters or the powerful winds that peeled of roofs.
Perhaps one of the saddest videos was that of a mother crying out for help and pleading repeatedly for people to pray for her and her four-month-old baby, who were stuck on a roof and trapped in the storm. That will forever be seared in our consciousness.
As news poured in, there were some in Abaco who claimed that several people had died during the storm. Government officials quickly urged residents to avoid spreading news that was unconfirmed.
Hours later, our nation’s prime minister, Dr. Hubert Minnis confirmed our worst fears.
“There are questions about fatalities. Thus far, the Royal Bahamas Police Force has confirmed that there are five deaths on Abaco. Teams will go to Abaco as soon as possible for full and proper assessment and identification,” he said during a news conference Monday.
“We are going to be very careful in reporting such information, which should only come from official channels and be verified by the Royal Bahamas Police Force. We need to be sensitive in reporting such information and will do so as soon as we have reliable information.”
The prime minister is right. In fact, I, too, was disappointed to see some irresponsible individuals – hell bent on being the bearer of bad news – spread misinformation across various social media platforms.
Many claimed higher fatality numbers, which added to the panic experienced by many people who were already worried about family members they could not reach.
According to the prime minister, the initial reports from Abaco are that the devastation is “unprecedented, extensive and deeply worrying.”
Bahamians are no strangers to hurricanes. We live in a hurricane zone, and up until Hurricane Dorian, we thought we had seen the worst of what these powerful storms could do.
In fact, for a very long time, Hurricane Andrew was the marker for absolute destruction. But even Andrew was no match for Dorian.
We have experienced loss beyond measure. We have lost lives, homes, property, and for some of us, we have lost hope.
In the coming days, many will attempt to point fingers as they figure out what went wrong and how the casualties could have been avoided. Many will question why people weren’t forced to evacuate. This is not the time for that. Right now, we have residents in Abaco and Grand Bahama, and in some instances, New Providence who have lost everything and been displaced due to the storm.
They need our help, not our animosity and not questions about what could have been done. We will have our moment for that. That moment is not now.
We ought to be thankful for the many brave men and women who put their lives on the line to save others. We should also thank the brave residents who risked everything help their neighbors. This is who we are as a people. We take care of one another.
I think the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), its responders and the media ought to be commended for the work they did in saving lives and keeping the nation reliably informed. I know everyone involved was stretched to the limits.
The US Coast Guard should also be commended for braving extreme weather to help us. The United States has been an incredible neighbour. People in the Carolinas have also reached out to me asking how they can help.
Our Caribbean neighbours have already stepped in, notifying The Bahamas that they stand ready to assist, including Haiti. This, ladies and gentlemen, is why it is so important for us to maintain excellent relationships with our Caribbean family. Because we never know when we will need each other’s help.
In 2017, many Bahamians criticised the government for lending assistance to hurricane-hit Dominica and welcoming them to our shores in their time of need. In fact, Prime Minister Minnis said it was our “duty” to help.
Now that we have experienced our own tragedy hopefully we can have an appreciation for that moment.
Now is the time for all of us who are in a position to give, to donate clothing, hygienic products, food and money to help those displaced by the storms. Our brothers and sisters have lost everything. They need help badly.
During national tragedies we must come together. This is not the time for division.
Instead of pointing fingers, let’s hold hands with one another and get to work in rebuilding our nation.
Forward, Upward, Onward, Together.