“Our very lives depend on the ethics of strangers, and most of us are always strangers to other people.” — Bill Moyers
As children, we always knew that whenever we had complaints about our siblings and friends we could turn to our parents for comfort and support.
As teenagers, when we experienced conflict that was created by radical hormonal changes, we knew that we could turn to our friends for direction. And in our adult lives, we regularly take solace in the refuge of the support of family members, colleagues and others who counsel us about how to resolve a myriad of personal or interpersonal challenges.
Several weeks ago, the northern islands of Abaco and Grand Bahama suffered a blow from the most disastrous force of nature in the form of Hurricane Dorian.
For days following Dorian’s devastation of the lives and properties that were directly affected, many, for the first time in their lives, expressed a degree of hapless helplessness and hopelessness because they were uncertain to whom they could turn for relief.
Many of our citizens were overcome with a sense of national paralysis because no one provided any clear direction about what they just experienced and, worse, there was no one providing any coherent sense of direction about their future.
Therefore, this week, we would like to consider this — in moments of national disaster, distress, dislocation and devastation, when our lives and very existences seem to be most uncertain, who do we turn to?
In the days preceding Dorian’s slothful trek across our archipelago, the government urged the residents of Abaco and Grand Bahama to evacuate certain areas where Dorian was expected to make landfall.
The horrific potency of a Category 5 hurricane, with its torrential wind gusts and unrelenting rain and squalls that were reminiscent of the floods that accompanied Noah’s 40-day epic, had never before been suffered by the citizens and residents of our country, certainly not in our lifetime, and never with such ferocity.
Countless episodes of heroism were recounted by many who witnessed first-hand the effects of Dorian’s fury. They saw the valiant efforts of many unsung heroes who, of their own volition, risked their lives to save others.
Immediately following Dorian’s passage through The Bahamas, with great shock and awe, the world observed the horrendous results of Dorian’s destructive force, stupefied by the incalculable damage that the hurricane’s wrath wrought.
Only days before the hurricane, the devastation, destruction and profound loss that were left in Dorian’s wake were unimaginable. The full extent of the damage will take a very long time to enumerate and fully appreciate.
There were thousands who were not directly affected by the hurricane, who live on the islands not directly impacted, but who nevertheless endured the long, arduous hours and days of waiting, hoping to hear whether their loved ones would be found and, even more hopefully, would be found alive.
The persistent and prevalent comments of many thousands who lost their homes and could not locate their loved ones were that they did not know to whom they could turn for immediate help and long-term hope.
One of the most anguishing experiences, not only by those directly affected, but also by loved ones who were spared Dorian’s fury, was the countless number of persons who, for days, were not accounted for and could not be located.
The anxiety of those who survived was exacerbated by many reports of deceased persons floating in the floodwaters that resulted from Dorian’s unwelcome visit. This anxiety was especially frustrated by the incredulously low death count that the government has reported for weeks after the hurricane’s departure from The Bahamas.
At the time of this writing, the official death count stands at 53 but there are reports from witnesses who were on the ground that there are containers with lifeless bodies that have yet to be identified and officially recorded in the death toll.
The families and friends of the missing and assumed deceased must be suffering the most distressing and nauseating feelings imaginable because they have absolutely no sense of who they can turn to for answers as to the whereabouts of their loved ones.
Many residents on Abaco and Grand Bahama have complained about the sloth of the government’s response in the wake of this catastrophe. That response was generally perceived to be slow, disorganized, unfocused and inadequate. In the fullness of time, we will have ample opportunity to more comprehensively analyze and address those complaints.
What is absolutely and unequivocally known is that many residents directly affected by the hurricane were – and still are — lost as to who they can turn to for hope, help and direction, even these weeks following the catastrophic event.
In a future column, we will address some of the lessons that we must learn from the management of this catastrophe, lessons that will assist us in better addressing our response to such national disasters in the future.
The hurricane relief response by civil society has been nothing short of superlatively stupendous. Individuals and corporate citizens from all sectors have rapidly answered the call to be our brothers’ keepers.
Individuals have committed their time, resources and supplies to assist those in great need.
Additionally, corporate citizens have independently donated thousands of dollars to the recovery and rebuilding effort. Charitable organizations such as HeadKnowles, the Red Cross and many organizations, including Rotary and the Scouts Association, to mention just a few, have similarly rapidly responded to the urgent call for assistance. They should be commended and applauded for their efforts.
The international community
Similarly, the response by the international community has confirmed our faith by the bona fide altruism and profound concern that so many have displayed.
The governments of the Caribbean community, the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, China, India and many others, along with international corporate and individual donors, have wasted no time in making large financial contributions and providing other forms of urgently needed support. Bahamians deeply appreciate that our friends have demonstrated this exceptional level of concern for our plight.
Who do we turn to?
In the final analysis, we must establish protocols for managing disasters like Dorian. The authorities should not suggest that we do have protocols in place to handle the size and scope of this storm. If they did have such protocols, they certainly did not work; if the established protocols were not adequate, we should immediately implement more effective ones.
One thing is certain: we live in the hurricane belt, and as much as God has placed us in a paradise, we are susceptible to hurricanes every year between June and November. We cannot escape this reality.
Another fact we must also face is that the weather is changing and so are the hurricanes. Therefore, we also must accept the fact that the hurricanes of our youth are probably going to be rare. Category 1 storms will be the exception now, not the norm. We must, therefore, prepare for the eventuality of a massive storm making landfall on many of our islands, including the capital city of Nassau.
Once we have acknowledged that idea, we must prepare for those eventualities by establishing a diverse set of protocols for handling even the most horrendous storms nature can send our way. And, most importantly, we must identify exactly who we can turn to before, during and after a storm hits so that The Bahamas can look forward to as smooth a recovery as possible.
If we must confront these monster storms, then we must do so with great groundwork and painstaking preparation because we must, as we have heard many times during the 2019 Atlantic Hurricane Season, “Prepare for the worst; pray for the best.”
• Philip C. Galanis is the managing partner of HLB Galanis and Co., Chartered Accountants, Forensic & Litigation Support Services. He served 15 years in Parliament. Please send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.