Bahamians got a first-hand lesson in the urgency of global warming in the form of a monster hurricane named Dorian.
Whether you subscribe to the belief that the good Lord was sending us a message, or that our family in the north didn’t deserve so severe a punishment, or that this was a wake-up call to the world, the inescapable fact is that we got caught in the crosshairs of a new normal.
Hurricanes will intensify, and we had better prepare for them.
For starters, we should advocate to the world to update the Saffir-Simpson scale. Prior to the storm, too many Bahamians were lulled into a sense of complacency having ridden out Category 5 hurricanes in the past.
When the wind speeds reach 157 miles per hour (mph), it is labeled Category 5. More people might have heeded the warning had they heard that it was a Category 6 or perhaps a 7 with potential sustained wind speeds exceeding 200 mph.
The world was shocked that so powerful a storm formed. And then they sympathized with us when this cyclone “went to sleep” over the northern Bahamas, as Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis so aptly put it.
If you must box Muhammed Ali, best to get knocked out in the first 30 seconds of the fight than have to endure round after round of pummeling. Abaco took the first round, softening Dorian just a little, doing Grand Bahama and Walker’s Cay a big favor.
What was left in its wake, besides dead bodies, broken lives and shattered homes and businesses, was a carousel of Bahamian cynics, naysayers and haters, bashing all and sundry from the comfort of their La-Z-Boy chairs in Nassau.
Few of those posting on social media told of what they were doing to assist the effort to help our cousins in the north. Yet they didn’t demur in showering verbal bricks on the prime minister, the national government, the local government, the foreign governments and the army of volunteers that assembled to help.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in the United States has a staff of 10,000 highly trained disaster assistance employees and they were caught on the back foot by this hurricane, yet Minnis should have seen it coming. The head of the U.S. International Aid Agency surveyed the carnage and compared it to a nuclear bomb going off.
But that didn’t stop the haters criticizing our own emergency management agency, who in their wildest dreams, could not have done “what-if” scenarios for a 200-mph hurricane that stalls over any part of The Bahamas.
Some of the hate emanated from those on the ground in Abaco and Grand Bahama, but they must be excused because their pain is real.
While some in Nassau literally worked around the clock to send help, others quickly pivoted to the 2022 general election, telling of how they will patch hell on the FNM (Free National Movement) because residents underestimated the hurricane, brushed aside pleas to evacuate and were left homeless.
Nobody offered any suggestions of what else the government could do. Some wanted us to believe that the prime minister and his Cabinet were planning the Junkanoo parade rather than dealing with the biggest calamity ever to hit any Bahamian government.
Smart people like former Attorney General Alfred Sears didn’t do himself any favors when he complained that his chartered airplane, admirably carrying relief supplies and hoping to evacuate some of the sufferers, was delayed on the ground in Nassau pending air traffic control clearances.
Conveniently forgotten was the fact that on the best day, air traffic control over The Bahamas is a co-ordinated effort with controllers in Miami.
Now put slow-moving helicopters, circling fixed-wing aircraft, supply planes and military aircraft into the theatre, combined with a damaged airport infrastructure, a runway of only 6,000 ft, and limited apron space, and it becomes clear that Sears should have complimented the Civil Aviation Authority instead of putting it on blast.
The next day, a Bahamasair pilot flying the prime minister to the war zone had to take evasive action to avoid hitting another aircraft.
Just as hurtful was the Haitian lady sitting in Abaco and complaining to foreign reporters after refusing the offer to evacuate with her children to Nassau because “too much crime in Nassau”.
The country’s decades-long failure to deal with illegal immigration also gave us a black eye in the international press. Because we had no idea who lived in Haitian communities like The Mudd and Pigeon Peas, how was the government supposed to immediately account for all souls?
The Haitian government, true to form, didn’t step up and offer to assist its citizens. It’s our problem, and without a doubt we have a moral, humane and, dare we say, Christian duty to assist all and sundry, regardless of status.
Not a peep was heard from the litigious campaigner Fred Smith, who went to court to block government’s attempt to clean up The Mudd, Pigeon Peas and other shantytowns.
Eighteen months ago, a devastating fire razed many houses in The Mudd. Smith worked to block legal attempts to dismantle these shantytowns.
Dorian did it for him.
And what about the slum lords and the proprietors of the citrus farms on Abaco that exploited cheap Haitian labor and then left them to fend for themselves in sub-human conditions?
The Mudd and Pigeon Peas may shock our collective conscience but those who have visited Haiti know that it looks like Club Med when compared to parts of Port-au-Prince.
Perhaps when we look to rebuild better and stronger homes, businesses and lives, we will also take a moment to finally address the vexing problem of illegal immigration, if only to save Haitian lives in the future.
A social media post by American doctor Marc Binard proved to be both witty and uplifting. After immediately going to help out on Abaco, he told of a Bahamian grandmother evacuating on a flight to Nassau with others.
She had no time for unruly, ‘no-manners’ children on the flight, using the authority of age to keep decorum and respect for others in an otherwise glum situation. With order restored on the plane, she generously shared with others all that she had left in her handbag – bananas and mints.
Tony McKay, the Obeah Man, reminded us in song that iron can’t stop Bahamians from advancing. Neither will Dorian.
– The Graduate