Hurricane Dorian and Bahamas resilience
The importance of building and construction resilience to hurricanes cannot be overstated.
Preparedness could never be enough to shield a community from the ferocity of a Category 5 storm. Such storms deliver winds of a minimum of 157 miles per hour (mph).
Dorian had sustained winds of 185 mph with gusts to 220 mph. It thrashed Abaco and Grand Bahama for some 36 hours.
Respected Bahamian architect Patrick Rahming commented recently in a column in this newspaper that while there is likely no such thing as a hurricane-proof house, there are features that affect the ability of some houses to better withstand hurricanes.
Those features include high pitched roofs with little overhang, properly fitted and sealed windows and doors, sturdy hurricane shutters and a second exit from a house in the event of serious flooding; all excellent advice given our history with hurricanes, especially since 2015.
Extensive damage has been done to government office complexes, police stations and to schools, hospitals and clinics.
Tellingly two designated hurricane shelters one in Abaco – the Central Abaco Primary – and the other in Grand Bahama – the Maurice Moore Primary – both have low pitched roofs that became compromised early in the storm.
Hurricane resilience for small low-lying islands must also consider the catastrophic destruction caused by surging seas as occurred in both Grand Bahama and Abaco during Dorian and which, combined with high winds, took lives and lay both islands to waste.
This dramatically demonstrates the need to avoid constructing in areas prone to flooding – along the coastline, in low-lying areas, in wetlands and in marshes. Further, it validates the planning department’s requirement for coastal construction to observe a minimum distance from the high-water mark.
Remarkably the new administrative buildings in both Grand Bahama and Central Abaco fared well during the storm and were able to provide shelter to many when designated hurricane shelters were compromised.
The resilience of the new community hospital in Central Abaco and the community clinic in Coopers’ Town similarly provided both emergency medical assistance and shelter to persons displaced during the storm while the Rand Memorial Hospital in Freeport had to evacuate patients because of flooding and the clinic in East Grand Bahama was destroyed.
Electricity, water and telecommunications services were disrupted on both islands. Thousands of electrical poles were downed, and desalination plants compromised. While the restoration of services is progressing at a reasonable rate on Grand Bahama, with the exception of East Grand Bahama, full restoration of services in Treasure Cay, Green Turtle Cay, Guana Cay, Man-O-War Cay, Hope Town, Elbow Cay, Marsh Harbour, Dundas and Murphy Towns, Abaco, will take additional months.
The electricity on Grand Cay has been restored with the assistance of Florida Power and Light and the American owner of Walker’s Cay.
It is telling that Abaco’s main highway, built through the interior of the island experienced flooding in isolated areas and on Grand Bahama, the Fishing Hole Road, just recently refurbished and not yet formally inaugurated, was washed away. Also, the recently constructed causeway joining Little Abaco to the Abaco mainland was also destroyed perhaps revealing a design flaw.
On both islands, the main international airports, Grand Bahama International Airport and the Leonard M. Thompson International Airport, were once again rendered inoperable for several days because of floodwaters. Both are in low-lying areas.
In Marsh Harbour, the new airport terminal sustained minor damage while its seaport terminal was destroyed; Grand Bahama International Airport terminal was destroyed.
The airport at Treasure Cay lost its terminal building but, built on higher ground, its runways were never flooded.
Close attention must be paid to structures and other assets that failed and to those that proved more robust.
We strongly recommend that careful consideration is given by the government ahead of any approval for hurricane reconstruction, especially in communities and townships destroyed by flooding.