EDITOR, The Tribune.
I saw Twitter images of severe flooding throughout parts of New Providence over the weekend. I believe it was a meteorologist who told either The Nassau Guardian or The Tribune that the severe flooding caused by torrential rains was a hurricane drill for New Providence residents. As a resident of Grand Bahama who lived through Hurricanes Francis, Jeanne, Matthew and Dorian, I want Nassau residents to understand that the recent flooding in their communities is nothing compared to the flooding the aforementioned cyclones brought to our island. Areas in the back of Rock Plant Road; Sir Jack Hayward and Casuarina Bridges; Grasmere, MacLean’s Town and the communities along Grand Bahama Highway were completely submerged in water during Dorian’s ferocious onslaught.
On the day before Dorian landed in Abaco, I watched American meteorologist Brian Norcross on WPLG TV10 lament the impending devastation to Grand Bahama, which had yet to fully recover from Matthew in 2016, due to king tides that would make landfall on the island.
There were instances where Grand Bahamians were unable to distinguish the sea from the land. I commend Minister of Works and Utilities Alfred Sears’ proactive approach in addressing the flooding situation in Pinewood Gardens, although I believe his efforts will ultimately be futile when the rubber meets the road.
Even if Sears were to install 600 feet drains in Pinewood Gardens and other flood-prone communities, an engineer who is worth his salt would take into account the water tables beneath New Providence, which will most certainly rise during a cyclone, which will then contribute most to the inevitable flooding that will occur.
When the water tables rise, the water from the rain will have nowhere to drain off.
I read that Cable Beach, Old Fort Bay, Lyford Cay, East Bay Street, Southwestern New Providence, Charlottesville and Turnberry experienced flooding.
Most of the foregoing communities have one thing in common with MacLean’s Town in East Grand Bahama: They’re located near the water, which is a no-no when a category four or five storm is barreling down on you.
No technology that I know of could’ve mitigated the disaster that Hurricane Dorian brought to East Grand Bahama. The best strategy would be to evacuate.
Making matters worse for New Providence is that it is only 79.92 square miles. On the other hand, Grand Bahama is 530 square miles.
To appreciate the small size of New Providence, Hurricane Dorian was 280 miles across, with hurricane-force winds at about 90 miles in diameter. Dorian, at its peak, covered 65,575 square miles with its storm force wind field, which was bigger than the State of Georgia. Dorian would’ve completely covered New Providence.
My point is this: if Hurricane Dorian could devastate an island with all that land mass, what would it do to an island that is less than 80 square miles?
Again, I don’t want Nassauvians walking away from last weekend’s flooding thinking that that’s the worst a major category hurricane can do, in terms of flooding, which brings me to another important point. In light of what recently transpired in the capital, I see striking similarities between New Orleans and New Providence.
In fact, I consider New Providence to be New Orleans Lite. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast in the Fall.
At one point, Katrina was the third strongest cyclone to hit the US, with its maximum sustained winds of 175 mph. The storm killed 1,833 people, and left millions homeless in New Orleans, the Gulf Coast of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, causing $125 billion in total damages. The Galveston and Okeechobee Hurricanes of 1900 and 1928, respectively; and Hurricane Maria, in 2016, had more casualties.
If my memory serves me correctly, Katrina had initially formed near the southern Bahamas, but ended up becoming a category five cyclone in the Gulf of Mexico, with storm surges that rose to a staggering 28 feet in Biloxi and in the Gulfport, similar to what Dorian did to Lady Lake in Lincoln Green. Bahamians old enough would recall seeing TV images of the Lower Ninth Ward submerged in flood waters, after the London Avenue Canal levees were breached. In all, 80 percent of New Orleans was flooded.
I recall several Freeport residents speculating that 70 percent of Grand Bahama was under water during Dorian. Had Dorian continued its destructive march towards West End, the casualties would’ve been much higher.
Fortunately for New Orleans, between 80 and 90 percent of the city’s population had already evacuated.
As a First World jurisdiction, the US has the financial means and expertise to pull off such a massive undertaking. The same cannot be said about The Bahamas.
Of the 100 thousand who chose to stay in the city, 25,000 sought shelter in the New Orleans Superdome while another 25,000 bunkered down in the Ernest N Morial Convention Centre.
I can envisage the state housing evacuees in a category five storm in the Kendal G L Isaacs National Gymnasium on Bahamas Games Blvd and the A F Adderley Gymnasium on Tonique Williams-Darling Highway.
Under such a scenario, would the two structures be able to withstand gale force winds nearing 200 mph and are the locations high enough to prevent flooding? With nearly 300,000 citizens in New Providence, these are the questions the powers-that-be must ask.
The US Army Corps of Engineers was probably just as surprised as everyone else when Katrina overwhelmed the levees in Louisiana, which have since then been rebuilt at a cost of $14 billion. If nothing else, Katrina proved that man-made technology is no match for Mother Nature.
Several weeks ago, a former resident of New Providence told me that the capital is a bowl. Well, the same thing was said about New Orleans in 2005.
While Sears and the technocrats in the Ministry of Works must go ahead in installing drains throughout New Providence, I believe the state should also look to building shelters in the highest areas of the capital, just in case the AF Adderley Gymnasium and the Kendal G L Isaacs National Gymnasium are overwhelmed.
I see pundits claiming that the last major hurricane to slam into New Providence was Matthew in 2016.
I don’t believe Nassau suffered a direct hit. Had that been the case, those shantytown communities in Over-the-Hill would’ve been completely flattened. Based on my research, the last hurricane that directly hit the capital was in 1929, which is 93 years ago. That’s nearly a century of not being hit. I thank God for sparing New Providence. I have heard certain Grand Bahamians stating that they prefer their island to take a direct hit rather than Nassau. Their reasoning, whether misguided or not, is that if the capital is flattened, the entire country would come to a complete standstill. It would be a humanitarian crisis of apocalyptic proportions. Like New Orleans, I don’t believe that New Providence, or New Orleans Lite, can withstand a category five cyclone.
Freeport, Grand Bahama,
May 17, 2022.