Grand Bahama News

Struggling with Dorian’s after effects three years on

Mental health concerns among lingering challenges

Three years after Hurricane Dorian, a Category 5 storm that devastated multiple communities, many Grand Bahamians are having trouble moving on from the grimmest natural disaster to occur in their lifetime.

The lingering impacts of the COVID-9 pandemic have only exacerbated the situation.

Remnants of Dorian’s destruction and the subsequent COVID shutdowns can still be seen all over the island, reminding residents of life’s impermanence. And with the storm’s three-year anniversary commemorated during Hurricane Dorian Memorial Week, August 26 to September 4, difficult memories are surfacing for many.

Courtney Ferguson, 28, a cashier, worries for the mental health of residents as he remembers the trauma suffered by his uncle.

“He had PTSD basically,” Ferguson said.

“This is one of the most fearless men that I know. How Dorian hit so hard, for nine months, he couldn’t stand walking through his hallways during long rainfalls. When it started to rain fierce, he literally almost had a panic attack every time.”

Ferguson also witnessed the deteriorating mental health of some young Bahamians.

“As of Dorian, you find out between the internet, YouTube and various social media sites, that there was an influx of diagnoses of post-traumatic stress, anxiety, things that deal with the after-effects of trauma.”

Both emergency medical technician, Justin Hepburn, 35, and college student, Sierra Mackey, 20, admit to these effects.

“It actually hit me that I could have died,” Hepburn recounted. “There were animals, snakes, frogs in the water actually trying to get out of the water and they were climbing onto the walls.”

Hepburn was assisting with transferring patients from the Rand Memorial Hospital to Sunrise Medical Center Hospital Complex when his ambulance and phone were lost to rising water. He and his patients were able to take refuge in a two-story apartment where he stayed with 40 others for two days and was presumed dead by his colleagues and family.

“Your family was not gonna see you anymore,” he said.

“The last thing they saw was a video of the hospital filling up with water.”

Mackey remembers the unanswered phone calls to friends and seeing the social media posts showing submerged homes near her house past the Casuarina Bridge.

Furniture, cars, and a shipping container swirled about as the water rose.

Though her home was on 15-foot stilts, the surge reached her doorstep. Mackey explained that all she could do was wait.

“It was terrifying,” she said.

“I was convinced I was going to die – that everyone was going to die.”

In the three years since Dorian, Hepburn has been fearful of open bodies of water while Mackey has frequently relived the storm surge.

“I was kind of in survival mode,” Mackey recalled. “When I’d be at school, I would think where would I go if the water would come up here; would I be able to get to the roof?”

Dorian caused major damage to the tourist and commercial areas on Grand Bahama. Then, in early 2020, businesses that managed to survive the storm were impacted by the pandemic, forcing some to shut down which led to reduced incomes and job losses.

Ferguson said the only security is in essential jobs.

“When Dorian hit, if you weren’t a police officer, a health provider, law enforcement, pump attendant, a cashier, or if your job at the time did not signify it could take you after this, there was really nothing here for you,” Ferguson said.

Career mobility is a crucial concern for IT help desk technician, Delano Major, 31.  He finds that young creatives and college or trade school students are often left with few job options.

“A person I know went off to school,” he said. “He graduated at the top of his class as a mechanical engineer. He came back. He was only able to find a job as a janitor for three years or so because every company he went to said he was over-qualified.”

The week of events in memory of Dorian was also intended to encourage Grand Bahama to move forward with the theme, “The Courage to Rebuild”.

Mixologist Ashlee Wilson, 23, remains positive but said Grand Bahama needs to revitalize its economy with new ideas.

“It’s very tiring to have the same old thing,” Wilson said.

“There is sand and beach everywhere. We could be fixing the International Bazaar, Port Lucaya, or creating a new something.”

Major advocates for a decentralization of tourism push for the development of different types of activities such as island hopping, wellness tourism, historical tourism, eco-tourism, and flagship cruises.

Ferguson, Hepburn and Major believe that regrowth is possible, but said it will be a sizeable undertaking.

“Since Frances and Jeanne, Grand Bahama has bounced back,” Hepburn said.

“It may not have bounced back to its former glory, but it did bounce back before. Grand Bahama is filled with resilience – even to its ground, its soil.”

Major believes the island should be more self-reliant.

“We have all these natural resources around us. Solar panels should be a staple,” Major said.

“We are surrounded by water and wind. Why are turbines not used as an alternative to generate power?”

Wilson and Ferguson acknowledged that the innovation and camaraderie of Grand Bahamians still exist.

“After Dorian, it forced persons to better themselves,” Ferguson said.

“It had caused an introduction of new avenues of business, new avenues for entrepreneurs, and new avenues for assistance.”

Ashlee Wilson said, “Dorian has forced us to empathize no matter the income class. I know we can pull through if we remember that we are in this together.”

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