Watching Dorian

All eyes are on the tropics as forecasters track Tropical Storm Dorian, which yesterday was forecasted to become a hurricane before charting a projected course through The Bahamas.

Changing weather patterns, in recent years, have added new levels of unpredictability to the behavior of storm systems in the Atlantic, which is why we must remain on guard at all points during the season regardless of whether a storm’s initial forecasts appear to be what some might consider serious.

Storms do not need to reach hurricane strength to cause damage or result in injury and loss of life, as tropical-storm-force winds and rainfall associated with such systems bring with them their own dangers, particularly for vulnerable structures and areas prone to flooding.

Several of the deadliest and most destructive storms on record in the Atlantic Hurricane Season have developed in the month of August, causing thousands of deaths and billions in property damage in the region and in the United States.

Hurricane Donna, which devastated Ragged Island and portions of the southeastern Bahamas in 1960, first formed on August 29.

Hurricane Andrew developed into a category 4 storm on August 23, 1992, as it tore through several islands in the chain causing hundreds of millions of dollars in property damage.

Hurricane Frances, a storm whose catastrophic damage to the island of Grand Bahama continues to impact the island’s economy 15 years later, first developed on August 25, before striking the northwest Bahamas in early September.

And Hurricane Ike, which impacted the southern Bahamas after tearing a path of destruction through the Turks and Caicos Islands, first formed on August 28, 2008.

Hurricane damage to public infrastructure, businesses, fishery and livestock resources, and to private uninsured homes, has put considerable pressure on public finances over the years as Bahamians struggled to rebuild their lives in a storm’s aftermath.

In response to the need to secure funding in the event of a natural disaster, Finance Minister Peter Turnquest late last year, presented a resolution to secure a $100 million emergency loan facility through the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).

Another relief facility that has existed since the late 90s but is not often publicized is the country’s Emergency Relief Guarantee Fund, implemented in 1999, that enables the government to stand as guarantor to commercial bank loans for the reconstruction of homes and businesses damaged or destroyed in a disaster.

The Emergency Relief Guarantee Fund Act provides for a government guarantee of up to $50,000 for residential homes and up to $75,000 for businesses.

As we watch the progress of Dorian, it is important that our public and private broadcast media houses do a better job of providing up-to-the-minute, comprehensive reports on the progress of storm systems impacting the country.

When a storm is approaching or upon us, Bahamians often remark that they turn to Florida stations for current information, particularly once media houses in the country sign off from live coverage.

Additionally, storm advisories issued by the Bahamas Meteorological Department and posted to online outlets have been delivered hours after the National Hurricane Center in Florida will have issued its concomitant advisory — the effect of which being a local advisory reporting a storm as having a status that was no longer current.

Given the immediacy of information sharing that broadcasting and the world wide web provides, it is essential that Bahamians and residents be able to access accurate and current information on the track of storm systems day and night.

And providing the resources to enable agencies of the state to deliver information at this level must be made a priority because timely and ready information during a natural disaster can literally mean the difference between life and death.

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