The Long-Term Effects Of Hurricane Dorian On The Bahamas

Following the clean-up and recovery efforts after Hurricane Dorian, the Bahamian people are beginning to contemplate the long-term costs of the disaster. At 12.40pm local time on September 1, Hurricane Dorian made landfall on Great Abaco island in the Bahamas. This was noted as a Category 5 Storm, the highest category on the Saffir-Simpson scale. Sustained wind speeds over 298Km/h were recorded. The following day at 10pm, Dorian struck Grand Bahama; a Bahamian island famous for its developed tourism industry. Seven-meter storm surges were reported. A meteorological phenomenon affected Dorian after landfall, causing it to stall just north of Grand Bahama island; while this action caused Hurricane Dorian to weaken to Category 4, critically it also caused the storm to loiter in this vicinity for about a day. This prolonged the havoc and delayed immediate evacuation and recovery efforts. At 11am on September 3, the storm began to leave the Bahamas in a north-westerly direction.

Prime Minister of the Bahamas, Hubert Minnis, called the destruction “unprecedented,” claiming the islands were “in the midst of a historic tragedy.” Spokesperson for the United Nations, Stephane Dujarric, reported that the hurricane had left 70,000 Bahamians homeless. Estimates of the death toll vary wildly, with Bahamian Health Minister Duane Sand claiming 50 fatalities, while The Bahamian Press estimates that 3,000 people died on Abaco alone.

Controversially, there have been accusations of a cover up and government incompetence. Eye witnesses have claimed they discover more bodies every day, with counts having greatly exceeded the official toll. In response, the government has claimed that counting the dead is of a lesser priority to that of recovery efforts. However, in Marsh Harbour, a town on Abaco island that was completely decimated, there is said to be no help or government presence in the area. According to the BBC, looting for fuel, valuables and food is rife in the town amidst the corpse-strewn debris.

The first hurricane of the 2019 Atlantic hurricane season, Dorian is the strongest recorded hurricane to ever hit the Bahamas. Even as Hurricane Dorian hit, communities and port infrastructure of Grand Bahama island were still recovering from Hurricane Irma; a Category 5 hurricane which hit in 2017. While some of  the immediate impacts of Hurricane Dorian are quantifiable, damage to communication and transport infrastructure have rendered a comprehensive assessment of the long-term impacts somewhat opaque at the current time.

As damage costs are estimated to exceed $10 billion AUD, and the GDP of the Bahamas
being $18.6 billion AUD, the financial impact of the hurricane to the nation is enormous. With tourist islands especially devastated, and tourism comprising over 50% of Bahamian GDP and workforce, the recovery is expected to be further complicated. On Grand Bahama, five massive crude oil tanks at the Burmah Oil Terminal had their lids blown off. Aerial images have shown oil from the 1-million-tonne capacity facility spread across the surrounding area. While details of the disaster are yet to be released, the spill poses a toxic contamination risk to soil, groundwater and the local ecosystem. Abaco island local, Avery Parrotti, claimed that “There’s nothing left here. There are no jobs.” With tens of thousands of Bahamians left with nothing, there is talk of seeking refuge in the United States. With homes and infrastructure on Abaco and Grand Bahama largely wiped out, there are also concerns of a refugee crisis and overcrowding of the southern Bahamian islands. In the long-term, Hurricane Dorian and its effects represent enormous human and environmental security challenges for the Bahamas.