Shortly after Hurricane Dorian devastated The Bahamas, I was afforded the opportunity to travel to both Grand Bahama and Abaco Islands to view the devastation firsthand. As a 15-time hurricane author and a 31-year professional Bahamian meteorologist, I have seen quite a bit of devastation from hurricanes in my lifetime. Still, nothing could have prepared me for what I was about to witness on these two islands impacted by Hurricane Dorian in 2019.
Flying into Abaco and Grand Bahama by airplane to view the great devastation on these two islands was readily noticeable by air. It looked like someone had dropped a 400-megaton nuclear bomb on Abaco and eastern Grand Bahama, and a lake had formed over eastern Grand Bahama and sections of Abaco, most notably Marsh Harbour.
There, the trees were stripped of all their foliage and looked like they were violently ravaged or severely burned by fire. Every building in the Marsh Harbour settlement was destroyed, and others were flooded with water. A grounded boat lying on its side some 400-600 feet inland from the sea was the first indication of what was to come.
Then, the first houses — or what once had been houses — came into view.
Most were demolished by the strong 185 mph winds and gusts as high as 220 mph, leaving only roof sections and chunks of siding clumped together in big piles. In Abaco, full-size steel shipping containers and cars were strewn about like crushed, dented, or discarded soda cans. The Mudd and Pigeon Pea settlements were, in a word, “obliterated” and simply just piles of randomly arranged lumber and rubble with no clue that two shantytown settlements once stood there pre-Dorian.
The quaint fishing village of Sweetings Cay, Grand Bahama, was easily noticeable by plane, and just about every building on this cay lay waste to being the victim of Dorian’s wrath.
On eastern Grand Bahama, the spilled oil from the Equinor oil tanks was clearly visible. At the time, one could not help but wonder about the great challenge that lay ahead in cleaning up the spill.
The settlements in eastern and central Grand Bahama were all severely damaged. The roofs were gone on many homes, and noticeable structural damages to buildings were compelling to the eyes and pain to the soul.
The residents in these settlements seemed to be dazed and confused as a veil of sadness was clearly noticeable on these victims’ faces. Many of them discussed with me and others who would listen to the undesirable plight with no funds to rebuild or no idea how they would bring their lives back to some degree of normalcy after Dorian.
This introduction to their hurricane plight was my ‘baptism by fire.’ I was witnessing firsthand the dire consequences of this Category 5 behemoth of a hurricane. But, most importantly, viewing the wrath that Hurricane Dorian had inflicted on the people of the islands of Abaco and Grand Bahama and by extension, the entire Bahamas.
The death toll of 74 persons (63 on Abaco and 11 on Grand Bahama) and 279 are still missing.
To put that in context, the last time The Bahamas experienced that high death toll was in the Category 4 hurricane called ‘The Great Andros Hurricane of 1929’, which killed over 142 persons.
The significant death toll reported in prior hurricanes impacting The Bahamas were: The Great Abaco Hurricane of 1932-18 persons, Tropical Storm #10 of 1942-10 persons, Hurricane Betsy of 1965-2 persons, Hurricane Andrew of 1992-4 persons, Hurricane Frances of 2004-1 person, Hurricane Wilma of 2005-1 person, Hurricane Floyd of 1999-2 persons and Hurricane Noel of 2008-1 person and Hurricane Sandy of 2012-1 person.
Hurricane Dorian was one of only four Category 5 hurricanes to strike The Bahamas at that intensity. They were The Great Abaco Hurricane of 1932, The Great Cuba-Brownsville Hurricane of 1933, Hurricane Andrew in 1992, and finally Hurricane Dorian in 2019. It is the second strongest landfalling hurricane in the North Atlantic, placing it right behind The Great Labour Day Hurricane of 1935. In addition, it is the strongest hurricane on record to strike The Bahamas with sustained winds of 185 mph, surpassing The Great Abaco Hurricane of 1932 with sustained winds of 160 mph.
Category 5 Hurricane Dorian in 2019 has shown our strengths and weaknesses when preparing for and dealing with the repercussions of a major hurricane. Still, most of all, it has demonstrated our resiliency and how we arise above these ravages of nature called hurricanes.
Wayne Neely is an international speaker, weather forecaster, and best-selling author. He attended the Caribbean Meteorological Institute in Barbados where he majored and specialized in weather forecasting. He has written and published 15 books on hurricanes, contributed questions on hurricanes for ‘Who Wants to Be A Millionaire,” and was featured in the NOVA/PBS Documentary “Killer Hurricanes.” Among the many publications of this proud Andros native is his most-recent book, “The Greatest and Deadliest Hurricanes to Impact the Bahamas: The Stories Behind the Great Storms.”