The long-term impact of Hurricane Dorian

Waves strike the Main Street Pier as Hurricane Dorian passes 90 miles offshore in Daytona Beach, Flo...
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For nearly a week, Hurricane Dorian has been threatening to bear down on anything in its path as it makes its way through the Atlantic. The storm reached Category 5 status before making landfall in the Bahamas and it has continued on a course, albeit with less intensity, toward the eastern coast of the United States. The week-long threat of the storm has interrupted the lives of millions, and Dorian has already resulted in more than 20 deaths and countless damages to infrastructure and the environment. While Hurricane Dorian will eventually dissipate, people in the Bahamas, the United States, and other affected areas will be dealing with the fallout long after the weather warnings are lifted.

Damage in the Bahamas

The Bahamas, a small country of about 400,000 people in the Caribbean, bore the brunt of Dorian's strength as the storm made its way up the Atlantic Ocean. The hurricane gained speed and intensity as it closed in on the Bahamas, eventually becoming a Category 5 strength storm and sustaining record-breaking wind speeds of 185 miles per hour as it made landfall. It was by far the strongest storm to ever hit the many islands of the Bahamas, and it spent nearly 41 hours terrorizing the country, according to the National Weather Service. An account provided to the BBC by a person trapped on the island as the storm stated, "Water was up to my neck. It stayed like that for two or three hours" until the man and his wife were evacuated from their home by their son to take shelter in the second story of the son's home.

The results of that sustained level of storm levied against the country has been devastating. The death toll for the storm has already reached 20, but it's expected to climb higher as rescue workers continue to dig through destroyed buildings and structures. Photos coming from the islands of the Bahamas, particularly the Abaco Islands, which the BBC estimates to have been the hardest hit in the region, show the level of utter destruction that Dorian was capable of. Images reveal homes with their roofs ripped clean off, the bare-bones framework of structures left standing while everything else has been left in tatters. Entire neighborhoods have been wiped out, as have stretches of businesses. Roads essential to travel across the islands have been destroyed, making transportation options extremely limited. The International Red Cross estimates that as much as 45 percent of homes on Grand Bahama and the Abacos, two of the most populous islands in the country, were severely damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Dorian. As many as 70,000 people on the islands are believed to be in "immediate need" of aid, according to United Nations officials, and more than 12,000 are currently living in evacuation shelters. According to The Guardian, Lia Head-Rigby, a member of a hurricane relief group operating in the Bahamas, described the damages as "Apocalyptic" and "total devastation." She told the publication, “It’s not rebuilding something that was there; we have to start again.” Others have said there is "nothing left" following the storm, describing it as being "like a bomb went off."

We are just beginning to see the extent of the damage done by Dorian, but each new bit of devastation that is revealed simply adds to the tragedy. AccuWeather projects that the Bahamas suffered more than $5 billion in damages during the nearly two-day period that the storm passed through. The Bahamas deputy prime minister, Peter Turnquest, has suggested similar, stating that it will cost "hundreds of millions, if not billions” just to rebuild the Abacos and Grand Bahama. While the nation struggles to get back on its feet, rebuilding everything that has been lost, it will continue to suffer losses to one of its biggest industries: tourism. The country counts on visitors for 60 percent of its national economy, and for at least a short period of time, that will no longer be viable. Many of the hotels on the island have suffered damages, and regions that are usually tourist hot spots will be in states of repair for some time — though some popular travel destinations have fared fine through the storm.

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While it's difficult to compare the damage Dorian has done to the Bahamas to previous storms because the industries and infrastructure affected are different, it's hard not to think of Puerto Rico and the devastation it felt in the wake of Hurricane Maria. Though Maria never reached Category 5 status, it was still strong enough to wipe out much of Puerto Rico's essential infrastructure, including the power grid, and do more than $8 billion in damages, all but wiping out the country's agricultural industry for a time. It has been nearly two years since Puerto Rico was hit by Hurricane Maria, but the nation is still in the process of fully recovering. Rebuilding efforts of homes and businesses are still ongoing and some roads flooded by the storm remain washed out and inaccessible for travelers, according to NPR. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has been tasked with building as many as 75,000 new structures on the island, and has been slow to meet those goals, in no small part because the United States government has been reluctant to supply necessary support to the island. If there any anything for the Bahamas to take heart in from what has happened in Puerto Rico, it is perhaps the quick recovery of the country's tourism industry. The nation has broken tourism records in the years following Hurricane Maria despite the ongoing recovery effort. Given that the Bahamas are so heavily reliant on the industry, that should bode well for the nation's opportunity to recover economically from the results of Dorian — though that doesn't guarantee the recovery process will be smooth for residents of the nation.

Damage in America

Because Hurricane Dorian has lost some of its strength as it heads toward the United States, it is expected that the storm will do considerably less long-term damage than has been felt by the Bahamas. However, Dorian was still a high Category 2 when it made landfall in America, which brings plenty of adverse effects, from wind damage to flooding and even loss of life. Parts of downtown Charleston, South Carolina have already suffered from flooding, according to the Washington Post, and low-lying communities like Hampton Roads, Virginia could see major storm surges that drench them with two to four feet of water. Those level of surges are considered to be life-threatening. The National Weather Service is warning that ongoing rainfall could lead to widespread flash floods, with as much as three to four inches of water being dumped from the sky every hour over the top of South Carolina and coastal North Carolina. Energy companies have warned of potential power outages throughout the region as the storm passes through.

While it appears Dorian will certainly have its presence felt on the coastal U.S., it's likely that any damage it does will be less devastating than what has happened to the Bahamas. But even in the U.S., the effects of the storm will last after it has passed. It can take flood water more than a week to drain. At least one life has already been lost as a result of Dorian as it moved through North Carolina, and it is possible that more will be reported going forward. Following the massive rainfall brought by Tropical Storm Harvey, Houston saw standing water in some areas for weeks. That limits the ability of people to get in and out of their homes, go about their lives, or get necessary supplies to survive. AccuWeather has projected as much as $5 billion in damages in the United States will be caused by Hurricane Dorian, and it will likely take weeks if not months for full repairs to damaged homes and buildings to be completed.

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Environmental impact of hurricanes

Of course, hurricanes don't simply upset the physical structures that we rely on. The storms also have an impact on the environment. According to Hurricane Science, the storms can do a considerable amount of damage to existing ecosystems, destroying forests and trees and resulting in limited food and habitat availability to animals living in an affected region. Following Hurricane Andrew in 1992, south Florida was stripped nearly entirely of vegetation in parts of the Florida Keys, including considerable damage to to foliage and woodlands, as well as additional damage done to shorelines. It's hard to determine exactly what sort of effects these have long term on the environment, but the damage certainly can have an impact on living creatures. Endangered species especially feel these pain points, and there are a number of such animals living in parts of the Bahamas.

Hurricanes can also carry bacteria and diseases into regions, leading to contaminations and potentially widespread illnesses. The island of Barbuda saw an influx of cholera cases following Hurricane Irma in 2017, and leptospirosis, a bacterial disease that can severely damage the liver and kidneys, began spreading in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria. Following Hurricane Harvey, water samples taken from Houston found instances of E-coli and Enterococci bacterium. A detailed study of Hurricane Harvey found that it brought more than 700,000 gallons of pollutants that were released into the water and more than 38,000 pounds of air pollutants that affected Houston and its surrounding counties. The long-term effect of those pollutants is hard to measure, but it is clear from other storms that these situations can cause health crises that affect the population long after the storm has gone.