A potential weekend formation of a subtropical system near the northwest Bahamas ushers in the reality that the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season is now only 19 days away; a season forecasters predict will be above average.
The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will announce its initial outlook for the season next week, but when the government and the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) will address the nation on our state of readiness is less certain.
A recent report by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) on the shelter readiness of Abaco and Grand Bahama for the upcoming season, highlighted what most on the ground know all too well – that there is likely to be insufficient shelters to meet demand in the event of evacuations, particularly on Abaco.
This deficiency is especially notable given that the Minnis administration passed legislation to enable mandatory evacuations and criminalize one’s failure to comply with an evacuation order, but has conversely failed to ensure that sufficient storm-ready shelter options exist throughout the country to house all who may choose or be ordered to flee from their homes.
Over eight months since the passage of Hurricane Dorian, Abaco’s restoration remains largely a work in progress, with electricity yet to be restored to several major communities and many houses and structures still in a state of ruin or disrepair, leaving hundreds displaced from the home they long to return to.
What was originally billed as a temporary modular dome site to house approximately 1,000 Abaconians at Spring City, currently houses only eight families, and members of the Haitian community still reside in tents, which hardly makes for a safer, more resilient set of circumstances heading into the June 1 start of the season.
On Grand Bahama, much of the island’s water supply has not yet been restored to potability, though progress continues, many houses and structures are uninhabitable or in need of repair.
As of May 1, the process of temporary power connections began for residents of several of the island’s devastated eastern settlements, but for the approximately 100 residents of the Sweeting’s Cay settlement, precious little restoration has occurred.
Almost all of the residents still reside in tents, electricity has yet to be restored, cellular service is spotty; and those fortunate enough to have been left with bathroom facilities in Dorian’s wake, tote sea water to their storm-damaged structures for flushing.
When the government received parliamentary approval to borrow an additional $507.9 million in the aftermath of Dorian, Finance Minister Peter Turnquest said capital expenditure in the current fiscal period was expected to increase by $100 million for hurricane initiatives.
It is anticipated that this month’s tabling of the 2020/2021 fiscal budget, and its ensuing debate, will provide details on the amount spend for capital works on Abaco and Grand Bahama.
But ahead of the budget presentation, what is troublingly apparent is that both islands which have suffered catastrophic storm damage over the past two decades, are exceptionally vulnerable to whatever the upcoming hurricane season might bring.
In the aftermath of Dorian, “resiliency” became the buzzword that was typically applied to ideas about the reconstruction of homes and businesses.
But little emphasis was placed on the critical function of telecommunication services.
During Dorian, emergency services were crippled by a widespread loss of communication, leaving first responders and residents at risk of death, unable to establish contact with one another.
There has been no report to the nation on the communication failures during Dorian, inclusive of challenges with the use of government-issued satellite phones; and the public has not been advised of how or whether communication systems and protocols have been made more resilient on all islands in preparation for future storms.
Reliable communication in an emergency can literally mean the difference between life and death, as can accurate forecast and storm surge models that enable officials and residents to know the areas of greatest risk.
The currently developing area of low pressure to the northeast of The Bahamas reminds us that the time for making hurricane preparations is now.
Regrettably, the COVID-19 pandemic has consumed not only our collective consciousness but the disposable income of many, but it is nonetheless critical to do whatever one can to be ready for the upcoming season.