Bahamas Update: What's Open (Hint: Most of the Islands) and How You Can Help

Sep 12, 2019

As Tropical Storm (now Hurricane) Humberto neared the Bahamas this weekend, the world looked on in fear for a region that's only just begun to recover from the nightmare of Hurricane Dorian. And you could practically hear the collective sigh of relief when Humberto gave the islands a pass.

But here's the thing: For all of Dorian's devastation, that storm gave most of the archipelago a pass, too. Of the 700-plus islands, the vast majority emerged unscathed—and visiting them is one of the best ways you can help the few that didn't. Besides, how often do you get to tell yourself that orchestrating an impromptu trip to the tropics is only the right thing to do?

But before you start planning, here's a review of what happened—and an update on where things stand now.

Where the storm hit

The Bahamas occupy 100,000 square miles of the Atlantic, and while the Category 5 hurricane dealt only a glancing blow to the tourism hub and capital of Nassau, Grand Bahama Island and the island of Great Abaco were not as lucky. Not only did the eye of the storm—with its 185 mph winds—pass directly over Great Abaco and Grand Bahama, Dorian's progress slowed to just one mile per hour in the process, so the islands were pounded with hurricane force winds for more than 24 hours.

How bad was the damage?

Devastating—on a scale that has yet to be fully calculated. The storm-related death toll is at least 50, while 1,300 people remain unaccounted for, with most of the deceased and missing in the Abacos. Marsh Harbor, the main town on Great Abaco, was completely flooded, and the combination of wind and water damaged or destroyed thousands of homes, businesses, and hotels. Phone service, power, and drinking water on Grand Bahama and the Abacos have been disrupted, and may not be fully restored for many months.

"All hotels in GBI and throughout the Abacos are closed until further notice as damage assessments are still underway," according to Bahamas tourism officials, who added, "We cannot confirm the expected recovery time at this time."

But even on Grand Bahama and Great Abaco, some parts of the island fared better than others. On Grand Bahama, the storm surge that hit the north coast washed well inland, although those waters have now largely receded. Larger sections of Freeport, the main town on the island, were flooded, and many homes on the north shore were destroyed; communities on higher ground on the south coast fared somewhat better.

Bob Davies, a Grand Bahama resident who rode the storm out in his house in the Chesapeake community on the outskirts of Freeport, experienced no flooding. "We just lost the garden and a few tiles," he said, noting that some hotels, like the nearby Pelican Bay, did not sustain major damage. Davies said that while no tourists remain on Grand Bahama Island, the airport and ports are open to relief flights and ships, and supplies are coming in.

"We will rebuild again," said Davies. "It is not pretty right now, but everyone is pulling together to make it better and stronger."

The situation on Abaco is more grim, but even on this elbow-shaped, 90-mile-long island, the storm's impact was uneven. Marsh Harbor, the main community on Great Abaco and home of the island's airport, bore the full brunt of the storm. Offshore islands, such as Green Turtle Cay and Man 'O War Cay, also sustained major damage.

On the other hand, the Abaco Club on Winding Bay, about 20 miles south of Marsh Harbor, emerged relatively unscathed, according to David DeSmith, director of marketing. "Our resort fared much better than the scenes you are seeing on TV and in the media," he said. (The property lost most of its trees, but only a handful of the 100-plus villas suffered serious damage.)

"The issue now is the rest of the island, and Marsh Harbor especially, where the majority of our employees live," added DeSmith.  "All 178 of them made it through the storm, which is something of a miracle, but we don't know if they lost family members and undoubtedly some lost friends or people they know."

What other islands in the Bahamas are open?

Tourism officials have stressed that most parts of the sprawling archipelago nation are unaffected by the storm and welcoming visitors. "We are grateful for the outpouring of support and love for our islands, and we would like everyone to know that the best thing they can do for us right now is visit Nassau, Paradise Island and the Out Islands," said Bahamas minister of tourism and aviation Dionisio D’Aguilar.

The safe-and-open-for-business zone includes the Exumas, where the famous swimming pigs survived the storm—as did Bimini, Eleuthera, and the Berry Islands (although some, per tradition, close during the height of hurricane season and won't reopen until mid-October). Basically, anywhere that isn't Grand Bahama or the Abacos is safe and open for business.

What else can I do to help?

Donating to charities that are providing relief supplies and services.

A variety of Bahamian resorts have made donations —members of the Abaco Club alone have raised nearly $2 million, for example—and the Caribbean Tourism Organization has reactivated the Hurricane Relief Fund originally established to provide support for the victims of the 2017 hurricanes in the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, and elsewhere in the region. Then there's chef José Andrés' World Central Kitchen, whose remarkable emergency relief efforts are feeding thousands. The Bahamas tourism ministry also has a listing of reputable charities working to provide Dorian-related relief. The same site provides a list of drop-off locations in the U.S. if you'd like to contribute supplies.

Editor's Note: To support the Bahamas through your tourism dollars during the Dorian recovery effort, consider the offers listed below.

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