Dorian hit hard, but most of the Bahamas is open for business

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Dorian Bahamas Royal Caribbean
Palm trees at a seafront grove at the Grand Lucayan resort on Grand Bahama were stripped of their fronds in Hurricane Dorian Photo Credit: Tom Stieghorst
Tom Stieghorst
Tom Stieghorst

Every hurricane is different, so I was reminded, as I surveyed the damage from Hurricane Dorian on Grand Bahama.

From a distance, it is hard to tell one from the other, except for the obvious categorization by wind speed number. And it is also hard for a few days to get specifics on what happened after a hurricane comes through.

But it is becoming evident that there's something specific to Hurricane Dorian  that damage in the Bahamas is greater on the northern edge or coast of the islands than it is on their southern sides.

Michael Bayley, president of Royal Caribbean International, said surveys of the line's CocoCay island north of Nassau showed that pattern. And on a visit last week to Freeport, I almost marveled that the parts I saw survived a Category 5+ hurricane (on the Saffir-Simpson scale, winds over 157 mph), so unscathed.

But interviews with Bahamians revealed that the north side and eastern end of Grand Bahama took the brunt of the storm's winds and especially the storm surge. An official for Royal's port agent in Freeport said the seabed off the north coast is relatively shallow, magnifying the pile-up of water caused by storm surge reaching land.

No one was apparently prepared for the depth of the storm surge reaching inland far from the coast. I spoke with a photographer who lives five miles inland and is not in a special flood hazard zone that needs to be evacuated. Within a very short time after the water arrived at his doorstep, it was infiltrating the house, he said. "The south shore is fine," he said.

The distinctions between different types of hurricanes can matter to travel agents. In this case, it is important to know that two very specific parts of the 700-island nation were impacted: the Abacos - and particularly Marsh Harbour  and the north/east sections of Grand Bahama.

To be sure, there is evidence of a hurricane in the south too. Electricity is still out, as is running water, and cell communications are spotty. But it isn't likely that those conditions will persist for months.

The government of the Bahamas has a lot of relief, clean-up and rebuilding to do in those specific storm areas. But agents should know and put out the word that the rest of the Bahamas is open for business.

I was in Nassau, for example, the day I visited Freeport and I would not have guessed there had even been a hurricane. Bimini, the site of MSC Cruises' private island planned for opening in November, was on the far southern edge of the storm.

And even in Freeport, with some fences caved in and some roofs torn up, the ocean on the day I visited was as achingly beautiful as ever. If fate placed the Bahamas in the frequent path of hurricanes, it also gave it some rare aquamarine waters as compensation.

So I'd monitor the reconstruction in Grand Bahamas and the Abacos for clients considering a vacation there, but give the rest of the Bahamas a green light. That is, of course, unless there's another storm before the official end of the hurricane season almost three months from now.

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