A reminder of a deadly storm
The U.S. National Hurricane Center released a report yesterday revising the death toll in the Caribbean and southeastern United States from Hurricane Irma last September. There were 44 fatalities directly caused by Irma’s strong winds and heavy rains, in addition to 85 fatalities indirectly linked to the storm.
Of the direct deaths, 37 were in the Caribbean and seven in the U.S. Eighty of the indirect deaths were in Florida.
There were no deaths in The Bahamas, but the storm leveled Ragged Island, leaving it uninhabitable. Critical infrastructure and buildings were destroyed. Restoration work has taken time. Power was only restored in recent months. The vast majority of homes remain badly damaged.
Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis plans to rebuild the island as a “green city”. According to government officials, it will cost “tens of millions of dollars” to realize this dream.
The government has not provided a timeline as to when full restoration will take place. Ragged Island’s remoteness, the extent of the damage and its small population make the task difficult.
The opposition Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) has been critical of the pace of recovery. However, islands across the region are similarly struggling to get back to normal as a result of the catastrophic damage caused by Irma and then Maria.
Irma was ranked by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as the fifth most expensive hurricane in U.S. history, causing $50 billion in damage. Maria, which came right after, is ranked third, having caused $90 billion in damage in that country.
The storms of the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season set records for their strength, how quickly they intensified and how long they maintained peak intensity.
Climate change has made the seas hotter, fueling the strength of tropical cyclones. Researchers wonder if the characteristics of the super-storms of the 2017 were an aberration, or if climate change will make these types of cyclones the norm. If so, these are dangerous times for the Caribbean.
The region’s economies are still suffering the effects of the financial crisis of almost a decade ago. Repeated hits from major storms could cause damage beyond the capacity of some Caribbean countries to afford.
At the end of the 2017 storm season, the government pledged a review to ensure we are as ready as possible for the worst. We wonder if such a review ever commenced or if that was just talk in the moment.
If we are in a cycle where Irmas and Marias are common, we should have a plan for our worst-case scenario: a Category 5 hit to New Providence. We shouldn’t assume help would come soon to our rescue. So many places in the region were hit in 2017 in such a short time that even the resources of the major powers were strained trying to help their own people in their territories.
Category 5 hurricanes are existential threats to the small island states of the Caribbean. After what happened last year, every effort should be made to prepare our country to survive the worst of the storms.