With three weeks until the start of the 2021 Atlantic Hurricane season on June 1, Tropical Storm Andres in the eastern pacific has already broken a record for being the earliest storm to form ahead of the Pacific hurricane season, which begins May 15.
It has been over a year and a half since Hurricane Dorian destroyed lives, homes and businesses on Abaco and Grand Bahama, and there has been progress in the rebuilding effort.
However, there are still far too many storm survivors who are living in tents, modulars or with relatives and friends.
Others have not yet returned to their home island due to lack of housing and job opportunities in the aftermath of the storm that tore children away from their parents, husbands away from their wives, and thrust loved ones into different countries and to different islands in search of refuge from unimaginable destruction.
Though some storm victims who previously spoke to us have remained adamant about rebuilding on their storm-swept properties, there are those who say they cannot bear to return to the place where the pain of loss and trauma still aches within.
We look with some nervousness at projections for the upcoming storm season, wherein four major hurricanes are expected to impact the Caribbean, and the coastline of the continental United States.
As time goes on, news stories about the recovery of Dorian survivors lessen in frequency, but close to two years since Dorian’s passage feels like just yesterday, and residents on both islands pray that all they have managed to rebuild in the aftermath of 2019, is not damaged or lost again in 2021.
The trauma of displacement
Few in The Bahamas can forget the imagery from Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and Abaconians and Grand Bahamians who evacuated to different countries and islands likely recalled how evacuees from Louisiana were separated and spread out throughout the US.
So dramatic were the events of Katrina, that research into the psychological impact of the storm and its aftermath has been conducted, with findings pointing to Katrina-related trauma remaining “a significant public health issue for years to come”.
The study published in 2007 the American Journal of Public Health identified several risk factors that made Katrina survivors more vulnerable to acute stress disorder and post traumatic stress disorder.
The study also stated, “previous disaster research has shown that separation from family and relocation elevate risk for post-disaster mental health problems.
“A recent meta-analysis investigating the effects of displacement on mental health outcomes indicated that displaced persons evince worse mental health than non-displaced comparison groups, and that internally displaced persons (displaced within their own country) experience worse outcomes than refugees relocated to other countries.”
Life in New Providence is not easy for those from other islands, particularly if that life comes on the heels of losing everything one has, thereby being left to depend on the kindness of family and strangers until some semblance of independence can be restored.
If you have never been displaced by events such as a natural disaster, it can be difficult to appreciate the psychological struggle that comes with being abruptly uprooted from what is familiar and safe, to the uncertain and the unknown.
Part of our identity is rooted in the place we call home, so the struggle for Abaconians and Grand Bahamians who want to return home but are unable to do so, could be intense for some storm survivors.
The Bahamas would do well to have local scientific research conducted into the psychological impact of Dorian on its survivors.
Findings from such research can prove valuable in crafting relevant disaster response modalities ahead of future storms, which ought to include formalized resources where victims of disasters can receive ongoing support and mental health assistance.
Despite much fanfare by government about its enacted legislation enabling mandatory evacuation orders, there are no new fortified storm shelters Bahamians and residents can look forward to ahead of the upcoming hurricane season.
It is also not apparent that mass evacuation systems informed by mechanisms for accurate storm-surge modeling for each island, have been developed.
Since storm repairs are still ongoing for many homeowners, those homes might not be fit to serve as safe shelter in the event of hurricane.
And with an ongoing COVID-19 surge in New Providence and case spikes on several islands, health and safety provisions at shelters will once again be paramount, particularly in the face of highly transmissible COVID variants.
We say to residents of Abaco and Grand Bahama ahead of the upcoming season that we understand your anxieties, and we recognize that news of a potentially above-average and dangerous hurricane season can trigger emotions which might be difficult to manage.
We encourage residents who have the financial means to do so, to begin preparing for hurricane season, even if that preparation takes the form of buying an extra canned good or non-perishable item during grocery trips, so that an impending storm can be a bit easier to stock up for.
Last year’s hurricane season was a record breaker with 30 named storms and 13 hurricanes, six of them major hurricanes.
It is our prayer that The Bahamas is spared the wrath of what the upcoming season is expected to bring.