Front Porch | Courage and resilience in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian
Hurricane Dorian, one of the most powerful and destructive storms ever recorded in the Atlantic, mercilessly and relentlessly brutalized and devastated much of Abaco, the Abaco Cays and swathes of Grand Bahama.
Few, including many weather experts, anticipated or imagined such a storm rapidly intensifying within mere hours, morphing into what the Caribbean Disaster Management Agency (CDEMA) described as “the strongest Atlantic hurricane documented, to directly impact a land mass since records began”.
Dorian, whose name, like Hurricane Katrina (2005), will be retired because of the historic nature of these vicious monsters, is the “worst Atlantic hurricane in history to hit the northern Bahamas”.
The death toll may be staggering. Many will never be found. Because of the scale of this unprecedented natural disaster, the country is bringing in teams to help recover bodies and may have to bring in extra pathologists to perform autopsies.
The Enhanced Fujita Scale rates the power and damage of tornadoes. According to the Scale, an E-4 tornado has winds of 166 to 200 miles per hour (mph) and is described as devastating. An E-5 tornado has winds of 200-plus mph and is described as incredible.
Hurricane Dorian tortuously unleashed maximum sustained winds of 185 mph and gusts of 220 mph. According to CDEMA: “Hurricane Dorian affected the northwestern Bahama islands for an approximate total of 68 hours, with the southern eye wall planted over Grand Bahama for about 30 hours.”
Tornadoes are generally fast-moving. But for horrendous hours and days on end, communities in Abaco and Grand Bahama suffered the seemingly unending hell and fury and force of an E-5-tornado-like hurricane, killing and eviscerating and turning houses, business places and other buildings into rubble and dust.
Collapsing walls, unhinged roofs, hurtling debris, furniture, vehicles, boats, cargo containers, trees and oceans of water became killing machines, instruments of mass destruction, mass tragedy and mass sorrow.
In the lexicon of the Enhanced Fujita Scale, Hurricane Dorian unleashed “incredible devastation”, obliterating most of Marsh Harbour, many of the Abaco Cays and parts of Grand Bahama.
Within the tornado-like fury of Dorian, deadly tornadoes and vortices vacuumed people out of their homes and lifted up into the air many desperately attempting to outrun and escape the ferocity of its freight-train-like winds.
Many crawled or swam from one temporary refuge to the next to another to escape if fortunate – or to be killed, amputated, maimed or buried at sea.
Heroism is so often an act of survival.
Amidst the carnage and chaos: family members, friends, neighbors, strangers and heroes like officers of the Royal Bahamas Police Force (RBPF) and the Royal Bahamas Defence Force (RBDF) struggled to stay alive as they were saving others.
The New World Encyclopedia described the horror of the Lisbon earthquake of 1775: “…the Great Lisbon Earthquake, took place on November 1, 1755, at 9:40 in the morning.
“It was one of the most destructive and deadly earthquakes in history, killing between 60,000 and 100,000 people. The earthquake was followed by a tsunami and fire, resulting in the near-total destruction of Lisbon.”
In the aftermath of the earthquake, the 17th and 18th century writer and thinker François-Marie Arouet, who mostly wrote by the nom de plume Voltaire, penned his brilliant satirical classic, Candide, a philosophical and theological reflection on human nature in the wake of the horror of the cataclysmic power of nature.
The well-crafted and vivid characters in Candide, the name of the main character in the literary masterpiece, exemplify some of the master traits and dispositions of humanity from the virtuous to the vulgar.
Crises and tragedies like Hurricane Dorian reveal the best and worst of humanity. The iconic photograph of a young female RBDF officer with one child nestled in her arms, while she is feeding milk from a bottle to a newborn, is a portrait of a Bahamian Madonna.
She is but one portrait of compassion, a part of a collage of scores of Bahamians and many others from around the world with extraordinary empathy entering into the chaos with profound generosity.
Members of the U.S. Coast Guard, at the invitation of the Bahamas government, began rescue operations as quickly as possible.
Yet amidst the courage demonstrated by so many, there are others using this crisis for nakedly partisan reasons. There are others animated by relentless negativity and unfounded criticism and false information and narratives.
Writing in this journal yesterday, attorney Lynn Holowesko rebuked the false narrative of a letter-writer over the initials J.B., seeking to spread falsehoods, many of which this journal could have easily checked.
Holowesko wrote: “In times of national distress, thank God, there are many Bahamians who spread hope and show gratitude for what is being done to help.
“Sadly, there are others among us who recklessly spread false information, and create resentment and despair.
“Our country has been dealt a devastating blow. …No government in a country of 400,000-plus people could be fully prepared to manage such a disaster.”
She continued: “All fair-minded Bahamians should be encouraged to appreciate what has been done, to use our time and energy in a positive manner, to assist those in need, to lift up our people and give us all hope for the future.
“Storms have a way of bringing island communities together. Dorian, while unprecedented in its fury, will ultimately be no different.
“Bahamians from all walks of life are joining together to rescue, donate, evacuate, assist and rebuild.”
Former Chairman of the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) Raynard Rigby wrote: “I am sick and tired of the complaints and criticisms in the hurricane relief efforts. Can we stop and try to help our brothers and sisters in Abaco and Grand Bahama? It’s not just the responsibility of the government.
“It’s a national responsibility – all of us must do our part. This is a national tragedy and we must all come together for the sake of our nation. Politics must be put aside. It is time to be Bahamian.”
Current affairs host Jerome Sawyer pleaded with journalists to be more responsible in their coverage while former journalist Jessica Robertson offered encouragement to those on the frontline of responding to the widespread devastation.
Contemptuously, some engaged in vulgar publicity stunts in the midst of the storm. They are going to have to reckon with their contemptible behavior, more of which at another time.
One who opined on the incivility of others just before the killer storm, and who previously vitriolically compared a former prime minister to Adolf Hitler, failed to show a certain grace as others were bracing for a monster intensifying with lethal force and ferocity seemingly hour by hour.
And, sadly, there are some with a pathological and insatiable lust for power and glory seeking to use this national crisis for their own ends, apparently intent on undermining others.
A number of the Shakespearean history plays and tragedies chronicle the ignoble and inglorious ends of those incapable of taming or ending their mad and often toxic pursuit of power.
Lynn Holowesko rightly advised: “JB is encouraged to join [the] effort to unite and rebuild, instead of joining a minority intent on dividing.”
This is a time for solidarity and encouragement. But our first duty as citizens after Hurricane Dorian was to demonstrate the quality of mercy and courage demanded after this shared horrific national tragedy, which Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis described as a “generational disaster”.