The destruction is near-total in some places. Early aerial photos show whole towns inundated, shipping containers tossed around, roofs floating on stagnant floodwaters, airports submerged. Dorian left a massive swath of Grand Bahama Island underwater. Aid groups fear that nearly half the homes on Grand Bahama and the Abacos have been severely damaged or destroyed, according to the BBC. Low visibility and turbulence have hampered helicopter rescuers, and a changed coastline and massive amounts of floating debris have thwarted ship-based emergency services.
While the death toll stood at 20
as of Wednesday evening, that is sure to rise as search and rescue operations continue. This is the result of a Category 5 storm that sat over Grand Bahama for 40 hours, moving a mere 1 mile per hour, pouring 35 inches of rain in some areas.
In its lethargic pace, Dorian resembles Hurricane Harvey, which pummeled Houston in 2017; the flooding was catastrophic because the rain simply kept coming. As climate change progresses, experts warn that more slow-moving storms might be the result, as the winds that steer these storms shift. It is already clear that global warming tends to make hurricanes stronger and wetter, driven by warm waters that have soaked up the excess solar energy humans have trapped with greenhouse gas emissions. Dorian “looks like what we’re going to have more of in the future,” Princeton University’s Gabriel Vecchi told the New York Times.
A responsible government would minimize the risk by restraining greenhouse gas emissions. But the best one can hope for from the Trump administration is that it be responsive to the current crisis. Federal resources have begun flowing into the Bahamas. The Coast Guard dispatched helicopters and cutters to aid in search and rescue. The U.S. Agency for International Development has a relief team on the ground that will provide emergency housing, food and sanitation help. Emergency responders from Fairfax and Los Angeles counties were on their way on Wednesday afternoon.
The real test will come when the floodwaters recede and the bodies are counted. “We are in the midst of one of the greatest national crises in our country’s history,” Bahamian Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said. With only 400,000 inhabitants and an economy highly dependent on tourism, his country does not have ample spare resources to recover. The United States should stand ready to help — not just with rescue but with the rebuilding, too.