It’s tempting to believe that what happened to The Bahamas in Hurricane Dorian was the worst scenario possible. Our two second most populous islands devastated. The hurricane sitting over Grand Bahama for over 48 hours. Complete destruction of whole neighbourhoods, loss of life still being calculated.
It’s tempting, too, to believe that somehow Nassau is immune, sheltered from the worst of hurricanes by neighbouring islands, or protected by some divine bubble that has saved us so far. It’s tempting to make claims like Grand Bahama is the island that is the most frequented by hurricanes in The Bahamas, that it’s risky to live in or invest on islands further away from the centre of our population, that it’s somehow safer to be in Nassau.
Understand me now: it is not.
Let me tell you this, too. Hurricane Dorian’s stalling over Grand Bahama was unusual, but it is not unheard of. Ninety years ago, an unnamed hurricane, not as strong or as organized as Hurricane Dorian (the world was not yet fully experiencing the impact of the age geologists are calling the anthropocene—the geological age most impacted by human activity), but quite bad enough to be a strong Category 4 hurricane, sat for sixty hours—almost three days—over Nassau and Andros. During that time many of the same impacts as were felt by Abaco and Grand Bahama affected the capital. Not a structure was left intact, and many collapsed completely. Grant’s Town was flooded and drownings happened.
That’s not all: the 1929 hurricane was the third direct cyclone hit New Providence in three years. There were three hurricanes which hit Nassau in 1926, one of which passed directly over the city, and one in 1928. These, too, were no baby hurricanes, but they were faster moving and the devastation was not as bad. The idea that Nassau is somehow immune to big blows, an idea that seems to have gotten traction since the passage of Dorian and others—and since we managed to weather Matthew without loss of life—is an idea we should dispose of right now.
Ever since Dorian hit our northern islands, I have driven around New Providence with my heart in my mouth. What if it happened here? I wonder. I drive through the densely populated areas of Bain Town and East Street, looking at the derelict properties, the neighbourhoods built on reclaimed wetlands, the little houses tossed together on narrow streets and think, what if?
We are reeling from the loss of life and property that we have experienced this past month. Our grief and horror is sharpening into hate, into unthinking enaction of impossible policy, and our hearts are hardening to stone. We Nassauvians are resentful of the burden placed on our city by those who have lost everything they had, including families and friends, and we are ungenerous.
But for the luck … But for the grace there we go.
We are, therefore, wasting time in petty squabbles, on resentment of the sudden increase in our population, on impatience of the Family Islanders who are taking up our roads, our space, our air. Our invocation of political colours, of obsolete immigration policies that can only increase suffering and defy the Word of God (and here I mean the Old Testament exhortations to treat sojourners in one’s land with kindness and hospitality, not that wishy-washy love-thy-neighbour New). Instead of spending our energy in negativity ad hate, we need to focus our attention on what might have been.
Dorian could have hit a little further south, a tiny further west. Then we would be the ones scattering to the other islands, taking up their space.
Our city would be the one struggling to breathe over the stench of rotting flesh.
Our homes would be the ones to be salvaged from the filth and the mud.
“But,” you say. “It didn’t. And,” you say, “it won’t. Hurricanes don’t hit Nassau.”
I have no illusions as I write this. I’m well aware that when hate and false belief are on a roll there is little that can stop them but, well, war. But sometimes, for one or two people, a little reason may prevail.
Understand this. Hurricanes do hit Nassau. Ninety years ago, Grand Bahama was the one who was sideswiped; Nassau was the place that held the record for direct hits.
It is only a matter of time. We are wasting it as I write. What plans are we making for the inevitable?