Powerful Category 5 Hurricane Dorian bore down on Grand Bahama in the wee hours of the morning on Monday, even while continuing to punish the westernmost settlements and cays of Abaco.
The storm left a trail of unimaginable destruction in Abaco.
Businesses have been extensively destroyed or damaged.
Livelihoods and settlement patterns have changed, much as they were by the 1932 monster storm.
It changed the geography and the character of towns like Marsh Harbour, where the Front Road has been erased.
In Freeport, Grand Bahama, homes, businesses, the international airport, the public hospital and government offices were overcome by flood waters. Hundreds of residents were trapped in their homes or shelters.
Numerous individuals have been injured. There are seven confirmed fatalities in Abaco. And we have credible reports of at least three fatalities in Grand Bahama. We fear that the death count will rise.
The storm brought out the best in countless Bahamians who provided shelter to tens of their neighbors, others who joined in rescue missions and still others who are rushing to share emergency relief water and food items.
We are particularly heartened by the usual generous response of the American government to a disaster in our country. It was comforting but not surprising to see U.S. Coast Guard helicopters photographed on the ground in Abaco to airlift the most seriously ill and/or injured residents to New Providence. Words are lacking to properly express the gratitude and appreciation of the Bahamian people for the friendship of the American people, who repeatedly demonstrate that they are true friends.
The prime minister, late on Monday afternoon, announced exigency orders that will waive customs duty and value-added tax (VAT) on imports to permit the reconstruction of both Abaco and Grand Bahama. And he promised the appointment of a Hurricane Response and Reconstruction Committee, whose coordinator is to be named shortly.
These are important first steps.
We note that the prime minister advised that the exigency orders would apply to the donations of registered charities. At a press conference last evening, he confirmed that a NEMA workshop was scheduled to familiarize such charities with procedures to access waivers under the order.
He did not provide the report expected on the conditions he met in Dundas and Murphy Towns, or of the cays – Green Turtle, Great Guana, Man-O-War and Elbow (Hope Town) – where the storm made its first landfall, or in Grand Cay and Little Abaco.
As large amounts of emergency assistance after such tragedies are typically from homeowners or individual friends to The Bahamas, such items will not be included in the tax and duty waivers announced by the prime minister. We recommend that all hurricane recovery donations be tax exempt for a specified period of time.
And, as recovery from the storm will require not only the reconstruction of homes and businesses but the replacement of furniture, equipment, vehicles and supplies, it is hoped that those replacement items will also be permitted to be imported duty and VAT free by individuals and/or businesses.
Policymakers must be sensitized to the reality that while it may appear simple and straightforward to urge evacuation, it is something altogether different for people to agree to be evacuated without knowing where to go or without arrangements made for their accommodation.
The early placement of additional Royal Bahamas Defence Force Officers in Abaco would have assisted an evacuation exercise, as would have publicized announcements addressed to the Haitian-Bahamian population in their native language by responsible and respected leaders in the Bahamian community.
The destruction of many homes presents an opportunity for the development of new low- and medium-income housing subdivisions on higher ground away from the seashore to accommodate the displaced individuals. In the meantime, some temporary housing will have to be made available in the shortest possible time.