Nicole triggers trauma of more ferocious Dorian

Just over three years after experiencing the deadliest natural disaster to hit The Bahamas in modern times, Hurricane Dorian survivors were feeling the lasting psychological effects yesterday during what formed into Hurricane Nicole over Grand Bahama last night.

“Leading up to the hurricane, I think it’s pretty normal to just be anxious about it,” said Michelle Russell, of Marsh Harbour, Abaco. 

“But with Dorian, we just were so ‘unexpecting’ and we know that Mother Nature has a mind of her own.

“So, we hear the news forecast, and we know that it can turn into something else and there’s nothing we can do about it. That’s one thing that was kind of riding heavy on my chest.”

Russell, a dance teacher and massage therapist, said she treated Nicole like a challenge that she had to accept, rather than run away from.

“With the weather rolling in, I did have a few moments of heaviness on my chest. It’s just fearful,” she said. 

“But taking all the precautions that everyone has, and especially me and a friend here; we’re hunkered down together; we are as prepared as we could be.

“And seeing now as things have progressed and we’re doing OK and everyone surrounding us is doing OK, emotionally and physically – because you know it extends physically as well – mentally, I’m doing OK.”

Russell, 36, admitted that preparing for Hurricane Nicole did bring back some trauma. 

“I will say that the pictures and videos that are rolling in, it’s definitely triggering, especially how the storm is on the same path as Dorian,” she said.

“So, you see flooding and the water’s coming up in the exact same way it did during Dorian, and all those things just bring back these memories.”

According to Dr. Andy Laing, assistant professor of social work at University of The Bahamas-North and part-time clinical consultant at Bahamas Resilience Center on Grand Bahama, being triggered by internal or external sources is to be expected from hurricane survivors.

“This is a hurricane three years following one of the worst hurricanes that The Bahamas has ever experienced, and so it is quite natural for persons who would have experienced Hurricane Dorian directly to be displaying some signs of PTSD or to be triggered because of this particular storm that we are currently experiencing,” Laing said.

He noted that hurricane survivors may experience symptoms such as involuntary intrusive thoughts, recurring dreams and nightmares, and dissociative reactions such as flashbacks, where the person feels or acts like they are re-experiencing the original traumatic event.

“There might also be some psychological distress as I’m sure a lot of Hurricane Dorian survivors are experiencing right now; psychological distress to the exposure of internal or external cues that remind them of the original triggering event,” he added.

“So, the fact that they are in the midst of a storm – we’re having lots of rains, we’re having high winds, and all of these are things that could trigger persons who experienced Hurricane Dorian.”

Laing also noted that survivors can exhibit behaviors such as hyper-startled reactions, where the slightest sound startles them; hyper-vigilance, where the person becomes extremely watchful, constantly looking out windows or watching news reports to track a storm; and avoidant tendencies, where they make a concerted effort to rid themselves of any memories or shield themselves from any external reminders.

Laing’s advice to Dorian survivors: “talk, talk and talk some more”.

“Find someone, anyone, that you can talk to. Let them know how you’re feeling, what you’re experiencing.

“That helps because it allows the persons to vent; it allows some people to experience a catharsis or relief of strong emotions in connection with the storm.”

He also urged survivors to exercise, for its release of endorphins, as well as to engage in whatever activity they find relaxing, to ease their anxiety through Hurricane Nicole and any future storms.

For Matalia McPhee, 37, of Abaco, talking to her husband was her way of getting through Hurricane Nicole.

“My husband has been so good with calming me down,” she said.

“Whenever it rains, and I’m at work, he would call me to ask if I’m OK; if I’m handling the rain OK.”

McPhee, a teacher and mother of three, noted that both she and her husband can swim, but that having to carry twins and another child during Dorian was tough.

“At the time, I had five-day-old twins and a four-year-old,” she said.

“When we got into the car, the water was up to our knees and my four-year-old son said, ‘Mommy, we’re going to drown.’ But I had to keep calm and think about getting my children and getting us all to safety.”

Now, having weathered Nicole, McPhee said that this time around, she was overly prepared.

“I made sure that for Hurricane Nicole, we had water, that we filled our cars with gas, and that we had food for the children,” she noted. 

“It’s better to be overly prepared than to get caught off guard like we did in Dorian.”

Sharing similar sentiments was Shervin Tate, 55, a resident of Sweeting’s Cay, Grand Bahama, who was hoping and praying that his fellow cay dwellers were safe, as there had not been any cell service on the cay up to last night.

“Before I left, I asked them how they [were] with water and food and so on, and everybody was in good standing,” Tate said.

“But up to this time, no communication is on Sweeting’s Cay. So, right now, we’re just waiting to see what’s going on.”

The Sweeting’s Cay District Council member said that he, too, experiences lasting effects from Dorian. 

“In my mind, I still go through that fear and that imagination of that day in September [2019] when we left Sweeting’s coming into Freeport in the horror of the things that took place,” he said.

“Seeing the water coming into the house where my ma, who couldn’t walk, couldn’t see, and had to [help] her, my wife, my son, I mean the horror just won’t go away.

“Returning to Sweeting’s Cay after the storm, losing my boats, my motors, my vehicles, everything that I worked so hard for. So, I mean, I live with this every day of my life because my losses were great.”

However, although Tate rode out Nicole in Freeport, after having lost his home to Dorian, he is hopeful that there won’t be much devastation on Sweeting’s Cay and is ready for the call of duty.

“To God be the glory. That’s what we are there for, to be our brother’s and sister’s keeper and to do whatever it takes to really save humanity,” he said. 

“Even today, as we wait for Nicole, I’m ready, where, if they call and say they need me in whatever area, I’m ready to help.”

Another Grand Bahamian, Nicole Sweeting-Bain, said life will never be the same after experiencing Dorian.

“Prior to Dorian, there really wasn’t much information that would be passed around; just that shelters were here and there,” Sweeting-Bain said. 

“But now, I could see that information is being spread as best as we can.

“Will we ever be the same after Dorian with any storm that comes through, whether it’s five or 10 years later? I’m not sure. Will I ever be the same? No. It’s the power of the make-up of Nicole. It now exists in my being and exists in who I am.”

The mother of two, who finds it precarious that she shares the name of the storm that was passing over her settlement last night, said she is thankful to be alive.

“We actually used to live in Lady Lake before Hurricane Dorian and obviously lost everything we had,” Sweeting-Bain said.

“The only things we had were the clothes on our backs. Thank God we’re alive.

“As we’re sitting here hunkering down through Nicole, which seems to have gone through the worst of it, there’s a lot of feeling of despair like is it coming again; are we going to have the same situation?”

She said “nothing will ever be the same” after Dorian.

“Every storm that comes, five, six, seven days beforehand, you see the potential, you see the 20-30 percent, the yellow on the National Hurricane Center of the potential storm. For me, I start preparing because I don’t want to ever be caught not prepared,” Sweeting-Bain said.

“There’ll never be anything like Dorian.”

Show More

Related Articles

Back to top button