BahaHurican's WunderBlog of 2015 Storms that Impact the Bahamas

Was Grand Bahama Ready For Wilma?

By: BahaHurican, 1:30 AM GMT on October 29, 2005

I found the following story in one of the local papers, and clipped the beginning to share.

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Devastation in West End

Publication Nassau Guardian
Date October 25, 2005

By MINDELL SMALL, Guardian Senior Reporter, mindell@nasguard.com

Dozens of people were trapped on rooftops in west Grand Bahama on Monday due to severe flooding caused by Hurricane Wilma.

Eyewitnesses told ZNS news in Freeport that the storm had caused more damage than Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne last year. Some people, who could not wait to be rescued from their rooftops, swam to higher structures.

The hurricane also reportedly claimed the life of a one-year-old resident of Eight Mile Rock it was discovered late last night.

"Wilma came into Grand Bahama with a fury worse than Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne last year. The winds were just as terrifying, starting at about 5 a.m. (Monday)," said Oswald Brown, general manager and editor of the Freeport News.

"From all reports, West End, which has still not recovered from last year's devastation, took another serious beating. People trapped by the flooding in Bootle Bay were calling the radio stations asking to be rescued from their attics and rooftops."

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From the reports I saw, it seems patently obvious that most Grand Bahamians did not expect Wilma to strike their island with such force. I do know that many residents of the Northern Bahamas watch news from South Florida, so that at least some people were aware of the hurricane's progress. Yet many residents were caught off guard, putting lives and property at risk when both might have been better preserved.

Firstly, it appeared that most people expected Wilma to be a smaller, less powerful hurricane than it turned out to be. This is not surprising given the fact that up until 24 hours before the storm hit Florida, the US' National Hurricane Centre was still forecasting that Wilma would be a weak category 1 storm when she entered the Atlantic. Additionally, a small jog to the south just as Wilma approached the Broward County area meant that the overall path of the storm was slightly further south than expected, bringing storm winds that much closer to Grand Bahama. On top of this, Wilma's large eye ensured that the worst of the eyewall winds would pass over western Grand Bahama in the hours after the storm re-emerged over open water. Certainly most Bahamians, including those on Grand Bahama, were not expecting what actually happened.

Nevertheless, it seems rather surprising that more attention was not paid to the potential danger inherent in Wilma's approach. A particularly obvious reason for my surprise is that Grand Bahama was the Bahamian island most badly affected by hurricanes Frances and Jeanne just last year. Many of the effects of these two storms were still clearly visible around Grand Bahama. Surely people who had endured such horrifying experiences just one year ago would take any approaching hurricane seriously! Unfortunately, this wary attitude seemed very much absent among the residents of the western portion of Grand Bahama. Most of those caught on tape prior to the arrival of the storm on Monday seemed quite nonchalant; only a few seemed perturbed by the possible effects.

Moreover, unlike Jeanne or Frances, Wilma was approaching from the southwest. This automatically implied higher storm surges than those associated with westbound tropical systems. Yet few Grand Bahamians seemed prepared for, or even aware of, the potential for devastating levels of storm surge. The lone fatality reported points directly at this; a one-year-old was swept away by the surge as his family attempted to flee their waterlogged home. This family lived in a lowlying area where evacuations are normally called for when hurricanes are approaching.

Perhaps better preparation could have been made if more effective communications systems were in place. Certainly the Bahamian media did not give Wilma the heavy attention she received in Florida. Although the Department of Meteorology posted the requisite watches and warnings at the appropriate times, these notices received relatively little coverage from radio or television, the kind of media most Bahamians pay attention to when storms are approaching. Wilma did not become headline news for ZNS radio or television until late Sunday night, when attempts to prepare were very much a case of "too little, too late". Even in the print media, where news of Wilma's trek through the Caribbean and the Gulf made front page headlines several times the previous week, Wilma's destructive potential was largely downplayed, relegated to one or two brief paragraphs at the end of the larger story.

There was nothing that could have been done to prevent Hurricane Wilma from impacting the Northern Bahamas as it passed. However, the havoc wreaked on Grand Bahama could have been mitigated somewhat if residents and local government had been hoping for the best, but prepared for the worst.


The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.

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During the 2015 Atlantic hurricane season, this blog will focus on tropical systems that impact The Bahamas and Turks & Caicos Islands.

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