As the images and videos emerged of the aftermath of the massive power and strength of Dorian, the strongest hurricane to make landfall in the Bahamas, I thought of the lives lost, the homes and businesses destroyed and the way of life for so many people that was now crippled.
The storm camped atop Grand Bahama for 40 hours, following two days of destruction of Great Abaco, Little Abaco and the barrier cays in northwestern Bahamas. When the storm finally crawled away on Sept. 3, heartbreaking stories remained. There were tales of residents hunkered in fear as roofs were torn off, water levels rising to attic heights and storm surges savagely obliterating the landscape.
My thoughts went to one man who I had met several years ago on Taino Beach in Freeport on Grand Bahama.
Probably most visitors to Freeport know him, or know of him. Anthony Hanna, aka Tony Macaroni, has been a fixture on that beach since 1992, when he opened his Conch Experience restaurant, a brightly painted shack with wooden tables that can seat up to 80 on the back deck.
Weekend visitors were treated to jazz and West Indian rhythms performed by local musical trios; his daily customers got a mix of Bahamian humor and lore.
I met him on a blustery January day. He was raking the sand behind his restaurant, preparing to open for lunch; conch and other locally caught seafood was on the menu.
Anthony Henna, aka Tony Macaroni, has been a fixture on Taino Beach since 1992. Gay Nagle Myers snapped his photo in 2016. Photo Credit: Gay Nagle Myers
That day, he told me, "Yeah, there's a cold front in the U.S. now, so it hits us too, but it'll pass. It will be a beach day tomorrow."
It's a completely different story now on the island. But there is good news to report from Tony via his Conch Experience Facebook page, posted on Sept. 5: "Tony is fine and sends his love and thanks to everyone who has been trying to get in touch. Phone service is still very patchy. Tony Macaroni's restaurant deck is still standing with only superficial damage, and he's looking forward to reopening as soon as he can."
Nearly 500 people (including me) "liked" or "loved" the post.
As I wrote in an article about Grand Bahama the year I met Tony, in 2016: Grand Bahama Island is like that, a place best experienced through encounters with locals. And through tours of natural attractions, like treks though the Lucayan National Park, bird-watching excursions, walks in the Garden of Groves, ATV rides through the island's remote East End and chowing down on seafood, gully wash pannycakes (sort of like pancakes) and guava duff (a guava dough pastry topped with sugar-and-rum sauce) at the Wednesday night fish fry at Smith's Point in Freeport.
The island has been in the tourism background, outshone by New Providence Island, which includes Nassau and Paradise Island and is the home of Baha Mar and Atlantis, and the Out Islands.
Multiple hurricanes over the years have damaged Grand Bahamas' hotel product, starting with Andrew in 1992, and again by hurricanes in 2004 and 2005. Hanna and Ike came in 2008, Sandy brushed by in 2012, Joaquin dealt a blow in 2015 as did Matthew in 2016 and Irma in 2017. Fallout from all these storms slowed recovery progress each time.
The Grand Lucayan resort, the largest on Grand Bahama, was hit hard by Matthew. It closed and later was acquired by the government.
Before Dorian's unwelcome arrival, the regeneration of the resort hinged largely on negotiations between the government and the Miami-based venture called Holistica Destinations, a partnership between Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. and Mexico's ITM Group. Plans called for the group to renovate the property and to transform Freeport's cruise dock.
During the storm's passage, the resort's ballroom was used as a hurricane shelter.
Whatever does happen, donations to relief efforts for funding and supplies sprang up, spearheaded by nonprofit organizations, government agencies, cruise lines, resort companies and destinations that know all too well the devastating effects of hurricanes, including Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA) appealed to its membership, travel industry partners, national hotel and tourism associations and Caribbean tourism interests to support relief efforts.
After briefings by the Bahamas Hotel and Tourism Association and the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism on how relief can best be provided as response operations roll out and damage assessments are taken, Frank Comito, director general and CEO of the CHTA, said two stages of support would be provided, beginning with humanitarian needs immediately with cash contributions and supply donations.
"Our people respond with great generosity both to the immediate and long-term recovery needs," Comito said. "Caribbean people are resilient but need help to bounce back as quickly as possible."
Details for immediate support are available at www.caribbeanhotelandtourism.com/hurricane-resources and www.bahamas.com/relief. Details on long-term needs will be released based upon on-the-ground consultation with the Bahamian tourism industry's public and private stakeholders.
"The recovery will take several years," he said.
The heartwarming message from the Caribbean Tourism Organization regarding the activation of its Hurricane Relief Fund said: "As has been demonstrated so many times in the past, we have weathered many storms. We are a resilient people who refuse to surrender even in the most difficult of times, and we are confident that the people of the Abaco Islands and Grand Bahama, with the full support of the Islands of the Bahamas and the Caribbean tourism family, will navigate the road to recovery together and emerge stronger."
That's my wish, too.
Update: This report was updated to correct the spelling of Anthony Hanna's name.