UNITED STATES—Back in 2012, I wrote about Hurricane Sandy’s warning to us, beseeching us to get out of her way before she and her friends come roaring back. Most declined to heed her advice, as the area is still in the seemingly endless process of rebuilding right where the devastation hit.
The gritty determination of Americans’ Can-Do spirit fills me with tremendous pride that is truly inspiring, but at some point it has to be leavened with common sense. If we continue to indulge our sense of entitlement by rebuilding on vulnerable coastal areas, we have to wonder when we will finally end the lunacy of making the same mistakes over and over, hoping for a different result.
Whether you believe weather changes are caused by global warming or God’s will or is just the cyclical nature of events, it is undeniable that whatever the cause, nature happens. Sometimes it results in amber waves of grain; other times it results in the complete wipeout of coastal areas.
Hurricane Katrina’s storm surge flooded 6 to 12 miles inland. The Grand Bahama Island hit hard by Dorian is about 15 miles wide. Simple math indicates that the near annihilation of this island was to be expected, given the power of Mother Nature’s increasing ferocity. Someday the previously unheard of Category 6 will likely make landfall.
Worse, these massive hurricanes reach farther inland than we may realize. In 2008, Hurricane Ike made a direct hit near a major city, with 75-85 mph winds that resulted in power outages for over a week, the shutdown of businesses and the loss of thousands of big old trees. Ike reached landfall in Galveston, Texas, but the above described damage was near Cincinnati, Ohio – about 1,000 miles away.
The sea will reclaim whatever parts of the coastline it wants, aided by melting glaciers causing rising sea levels, so what would a forward thinking mindset require to better live in harmony with hurricanes’ escalating ire?
First and foremost, we need to help those who were in Dorian’s path with emergency food, water, medicines, shelter and power. And we here on the mainland are stepping up as we always do. Some are bringing over generators with people to operate them, food prepared by chefs who will personally hand out the meals. Of course, money – lots of money will be needed, but before we commit to cash, we need to ask if it’s for restocking lifesaving supplies or rebuilding in Dorian’s path. If you choose to support the construction of homes that will inevitably be leveled again, just know that your donations will likely be covering temporary housing.
Helping Bahamians re-locate to another part of the Bahamas that was left unscathed would give people time to find a more permanent place to live, as this too would only be temporary housing as lower lying areas inexorably begin to shrink or disappear, one by one. This may seem fatalistic, but a more realistic approach to long-term help is to recognize that with these hurricanes’ growing mass and strength, it isn’t a matter of if they will occur again, but when.
Although other disasters such as fires, earthquakes and tornadoes cause loss of life and property, they don’t create the permanent disappearance of the land that they ravaged. In these cases, rebuilding is possible because the property is still there. As sea levels rise, it would be impossible to rebuild a town on submerged land unless it became a city of houseboats.
It might make more sense to clean up the carnage and replace it with a planting of Bahamian native forests, such as mahogany and cedar and scores of other varieties of trees and shrub that once greeted Christopher Columbus. Repopulating their forests would accomplish two important goals: the elimination of further loss of life and property, and the life-enhancing miracle that forests provide to our planet.
If this sounds far-fetched or naive, then let’s welcome any feasible, outside-the-box ideas on how to cope with the high probability of permanent loss of land on fragile coastal areas. Think about this: Some beach resort vacations may be a thing of the past in our lifetime.
The Serenity Prayer asks for serenity to accept that which can’t be changed; courage to change what we can, and the wisdom to know the difference. With every decision we make in the Bahamas and elsewhere, we should refer to these wise words.