Editorial: For us in Palm Beach County, Bahamas relief is not just helping a neighbor across the street. This is lifting up a family member who has lost just about everything.
The Bahamas — our neighbor, our family — needs help.
Scratch that. It needs our help.
The small archipelago nation, mercilessly lashed for nearly two days by Hurricane Dorian’s 220-mile-per-hour wind gusts and 24-foot storm surge, faces “one of the greatest national crises in our country's history," in the words of Bahamian Prime Minister Hubert Minnis.
The corresponding need for aid, is so far, incalculable. Medicine. Chainsaws. Tarps. Generators. Gasoline. Diapers. Non-perishable food items. Cash. And more.
The same Category 5 beast that spared an on-edge Palm Beach County left tens of thousands of Bahamians homeless as it leveled and washed away structures. The death toll — officially at 30 as of Friday — is almost too frightening to fathom as stories circulate of piled bodies and missing children.
So stunning and mortifying are the images of whole towns inundated, shipping containers tossed like toys, roofs floating on stagnant floodwaters and airports submerged that dozens of local governments, groups, businesses and individuals from Jupiter to Miami’s Coconut Grove quickly began mobilizing to render aid to the survivors.
It has been an overwhelmingly positive response thus far.
But we need to do more. Every one of us.
Because for us in Palm Beach County, this is not just helping a neighbor. This is uplifting a family member who has lost everything.
Our county and the Bahamas are entwined in a familial relationship whose roots go back more than a century to laborers who came here to work in hotels and homes, on flower farms, and on the Florida East Coast railroad that enabled this county to prosper. Thousands of local descendants of those laborers are now doctors, lawyers, teachers, firefighters and business owners threaded throughout our communities.
Many are making themselves heard on social media using the hashtag #BahamasStrong, since Hurricane Dorian first began pounding the Abacos and Grand Bahama.
One woman of Bahamian descent, Tammy McDonald, of Boca Raton, posted on Facebook on Labor Day:
"... Lost touch with cousin in Abaco late Saturday. Was in touch with my family until mid-day in Nassau and Freeport. Now I'm not able to reach anyone in the Bahamas. I'm sure you're seeing the devastation. Please pray without ceasing for my uncle, aunt, cousins and friends as well as all the people in the Bahamas; that they survive this horrific Hurricane Dorian." Fortunately, McDonald told the Post Editorial Board that she has since accounted for all of her family,
Florida Sens. Rick Scott and Marco Rubio recognized such connections Wednesday in their joint letter to President Donald Trump asking him “to waive, or otherwise suspend, certain visa requirements for affected citizens of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas who have relatives in the United States with whom they can reside as they begin the process of rebuilding their lives and their country.”
They added: "... Perhaps one of the most basic yet meaningful steps our government can take immediately is to ensure that those who have lost everything, including family members in some instances, are provided the opportunity for shelter and reunification with family in the United States."
Palm Beach County’ enormous luck in this storm — "We dodged a nuclear bomb," said Brent Bloomfield, West Palm Beach’s Emergency Operations Center manager — came at the enormous expense of Grand Bahama and the Abacos, where the stalled then-Category 5 storm unleashed sustained winds in excess of 185 mph.
It left the islands virtually cut off from assistance. Low visibility and turbulence have hampered helicopter rescuers, and a changed coastline and massive amounts of floating debris have thwarted ship-based emergency services.
This is a scenario we’re seeing far too often. The legend of Hurricane Andrew, one of the most powerful and destructive hurricanes in recorded history, is being displaced in our lexicon by names like Matthew, Harvey, Irma, Maria and Michael. Those are just since 2016.
Once again, we are seeing how global warming is making hurricanes stronger, wetter and more destructive. Once again, we are offered a warning to heed what science teaches we must do to reduce these effects in the future.
But for now, we must focus on continuing the relief efforts of the U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Agency for International Development on the ground there.
Because the first thing our Bahamian family needs is our help.