Hurricane season is over but not forgotten

About 1,000 utility trucks staged just south of County Road 470 near Florida’s Turnpike in Sumter County ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Dorian in September.

By all accounts, The Villages escaped unscathed from what could have been a disastrous Labor Day weekend when Hurricane Dorian, while wreaking havoc in the Bahamas, took dead aim at Florida. While The Villages was well prepared for anything that came its way due to the teamwork, communication and planning that drew from lessons learned during previous storms, luck was on the community’s side and the storm’s path changed, leaving little behind except the equivalent of a typical afternoon rainstorm in its place. Despite the mild weather The Villages experienced, the 2019 Atlantic hurricane season, which ended Nov. 30, was the eighth most active in named storms based on records going back to 1851. It caused an estimated $13.9 billion in damage, well below the estimated $50 billion from last year and the $220 billion in 2017.

Even though the next hurricane season won’t come back around until June, The Bahamas is still deep in recovery efforts and needs the nation’s help. 

Devastation In The Bahamas

There is a strange weather phenomenon that scientists are taking notice of. Some systems have been slowing down, resulting in much heavier rainfalls even when they are weaker. Among the three storms that made landfall in the U.S. this year, the one that had the most impact — Tropical Storm Imelda — was also the weakest. It caused $2 billion in damages when it flooded Texas in September, according to Chuck Watson, a catastrophe modeler with Enki Research.

Slower-moving storms soak up more moisture from warmer oceans and dump more rainfall as a result. The danger isn’t just limited to downpours. Dorian — a Category 5 hurricane — stalled out over the Bahamas for more than 36 hours, killing almost 70 and leaving Grand Bahama Island wrecked.

“There has never been a land area, or even open ocean, that was hit harder for a longer period of time than what Dorian did to the northern Bahamas,” said Ryan Truchelut, president of WeatherTiger.

Dorian’s 185 miles per hour winds matched the 1935 Labor Day Hurricane as the strongest Atlantic storm in recorded history. Damage is estimated to be at least $7.5 billion, according to the Center for Disaster Philanthropy. In some communities, restoration of water (wells were contaminated by salt and brackish water), power and telecommunications systems will take months. Reports estimated that 13,000 homes (about half the total number of homes on the two islands hit) were damaged or destroyed. According to the United Nations, 70,000 people have been left homeless.

Recovery Efforts

In the wake of Hurricane Dorian, the Bahamian government created a Ministry of Disaster Preparedness, Management and Reconstruction to lead the rebuilding and recovery effort. Bahamian Prime Minister Hubert Minnis also announced that Grand Bahama and the Abacos will be designated as Economic Recovery Zones for at least three years to aid in recovery.

On Oct. 1, United States Agency for International Development (USAID) announced an additional $7.5 million in funding, bringing the U.S. contribution to more than $33 million, mostly focused on educational assistance and shelter.

“Storms always disproportionately affect the poor,” said USAID Administrator Mark Green. “By definition, many are living in the margins. They don’t have homes that can withstand a storm like this. A lot of people fled. So providing housing, shelter that can help these people as the country gets back on its feet, that’s something we are exploring.”

NEMA announced the signing of an official memorandum of understanding with the UN Development Program on Nov. 4 to support cleanup and debris management programs on both Abaco and Grand Bahama islands.

Give Smart

While empathy drives many to donate quickly to help others in need, it’s important to know how and when the help is most needed.

None of the impacted islands can be accessed by land, only by air or water. They are environmentally fragile areas, so each extra items brought in will either need to be removed or will become part of what already is anticipated to be a huge debris and waste-management problem.

The Center for Disaster Philanthropy recommends donations of cash rather than product — with the exception of corporate in-kind donations that have been vetted by local officials. Donations of used items such as clothing and toys or individual cases of water are often termed “the second disaster” by disaster recovery experts.

While very well-intentioned, these donations actually hinder the recovery effort by diverting relief workers away from more crucial tasks so they can sort through the heaps of used clothing, canned food, personal hygiene products, shoes, coats, blankets, and other odds and ends.

The donations clog shipping ports, airports and emergency shelters, further hampering relief activities. They can even cost already cash-strapped countries and municipalities thousands or even millions of dollars to dispose of.

According to a study led by José Holguín-Veras, an expert on humanitarian logistics, 50% to 70% of the goods that arrive during emergencies is not needed or appropriate. The vast majority of goods that get donated can be procured much more efficiently and cheaply from local sources.

For instance, USAID’s CIDI estimates that sending bottled water overseas can be 1,000 times more expensive than producing drinkable water locally. The organization has a “greatest good calculator” that shows the true cost of sending, say, a $20 teddy bear from Los Angeles to Delhi, India. The answer: $165.85. According to the calculator, if that $165.85 were given as a cash donation, it could be used by a relief organization to purchase 33,170 liters of clean water locally in Delhi.

Cash donations also allow nonprofit organizations to support and strengthen the local economy, whereas a flood of free foreign goods could end up hurting businesses in the community.

For Next Time

Here are some key considerations to think about when you want to help a community in need after a major disaster:

> Monetary donations always are the most useful and effective way to give. Cash gives nonprofits the greatest flexibility to provide the exact aid that’s needed.

> In the majority of cases, physical goods would be better off going to a local charity, church or assistance league, which would serve to help your own community should a disaster strike your area.

> If you are part of a company looking to make an in-kind donation, reach out to well-known organizations that are experts in the field of disaster recovery and, most likely, already on the ground, such as American Red Cross, Team Rubicon USA, Mercy Corps, UNICEF, Good360 and others to discuss timing and placement for your goods.

> If you live in or near an affected area, contact your local shelter, food bank or community organization and ask what they actually need before making a donation.

> Be sure to do your research before making any cash donation to ensure the charity is not a scam, which spring up around every natural disaster. Check websites such as guidestar.org and charitynavigator.org to learn more about any charitable organization, including how much of their donations go to overhead and how their donations are used.

In the case of Dorian’s devastation in the Bahamas, donors have two other safe options. Grand Bahama Disaster Relief Foundation, www.gbdisasterrelief.org, was formed by Grand Bahama Port Authority in response to Hurricane Dorian. Through it, people can donate goods at official drop-off locations, including in the United States. The site also contains a list of government-approved nonprofits and charities operating in the country. To donate money, go to www.gbdisasterrelief.org/donations. NEMA in the Bahamas also has set up an online donation system and provides information on most-needed items right now at bahamas.gov.bs/wps/portal/public/Making Donations.

Staff writer Monique Meeks can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5387, or monique.meeks@thevillagesmedia.com.