By Barney Blakeney
One former Charlestonian now living in New York City, N.Y. called to check on friends and family after Hurricane Dorian struck the area. In the past minority communities were the last served by restoration efforts. That would be unlikely today since gentrification has transformed much of the Charleston region, he speculated. Local municipal officials said the impact in minority communities were mitigated by preparation born of experience and improved technology. But many local minorities noted that progressive response is needed for those in the Bahamas.
North Central Charleston peninsula resident Theodore evacuated prior to Dorian’s arrival. Upon his return he found no damage to his single story home and learned from neighbors the community lost electrical power only for about eight hours. But his focus was on the devastation experienced by residents of the Bahama Islands.
Hurricane Dorian hit Grand Bahama Island as an incredibly powerful Category 5 hurricane, the strongest storm ever to hit the Bahamas. Dorian was moving to the west at just 1 mile per hour, subjecting Grand Bahama to nearly two full days of intense hurricane conditions. Wind gusts blew in excess of 200 mph — which is strong enough to blow a roof off a house. The storm generated 18-to-23 feet of coastal flooding. More than two feet of rain fell. Even for people prepared for the storm Hurricane Dorian struck with a force of almost unimaginably catastrophic proportions.
In Charleston, city spokesman John O’Toole said, ““Due to a number of stormwater initiatives underway, there was not as much flooding in low lying areas, such as those in the Eastside and Westside neighborhoods, as we may have seen in the past. The Stormwater Department now has successfully implemented a plan to deploy temporary pumps to pump out water in the area of President, Hagood and Line Streets and the Septima Clark Parkway when flooding events are forecast.
“The city of Charleston had a designated liaison for emergency shelters working in the Municipal Emergency Operations Center full-time to connect people with resources. Prior to the storm Charleston Fire Department crews went door-to-door in mobile home and other vulnerable areas to provide information about the storm, evacuation, transportation and shelter options to ensure that everyone who wanted to evacuate knew they had a place to go and a safe way to get there.
“In regard to people who are experiencing homelessness, the city worked closely with 180 Place, both on evacuation and on return, when the city opened the navigation center in tandem with 180 Place to ensure that everyone had a safe place to go as they returned from shelter.”
In North Charleston Dist. 10 Councilman Michael Brown whose district encompasses all of predominantly Black Union Heights, Accabee and Chicora-Cherokee said the hurricane’s impact in those areas was “not bad”. His home in the Accabee neighborhood never lost electrical power, Brown added. His experience during Hurricane Dorian was much different than his experience 30 years ago during Hurricane Hugo, Brown said. The local utility company – Dominion Energy – and municipal departments performed admirably, he said.
He noted however that electrical power in some rural areas still had not been restored four days after the storm struck the area Sept. 5. The storm knocked out power to more than 200,000 homes and businesses across the Palmetto State on Thursday.
Theodore said while local government served minority communities well in the Charleston area, we can’t rely on government to help hurricane’s victims in the Bahamas. “We as Black people have to provide them relief. We can’t turn a blind eye to that total devastation,” he said.
Rhoda Green, president of the Barbados and the Carolinas Legacy Foundation was in Barbados prior to Dorian’s arrival. Barbados’ southeastern location lies outside the principal Atlantic Hurricane Belt. “Dorian was a baby when it hit Barbados so we only lost electricity. It was unimaginable what happened to Bahama which is flat compared to the other islands. What was so devastating to Bahama is the hurricane just stayed over them. No one could envision the devastation that occurred.”
Lorna Beck of the South Carolina Caribbean Culture and Heritage, Inc. described the devastation in the Bahamas as “Horrible, horrible, horrible. What we experienced during Hugo is nothing in comparison,” she said noting the importance of relief reaching the victims who need it.
Currently Coastal Community Foundation is accepting donations to The Grand Bahama Disaster Relief Fund, established with the Grand Bahama Port Authority to support recovery efforts. Individuals, businesses, and other donors who wish to financially support the relief efforts may donate online by visiting https://coastalcommunityfoundation.org/grand-bahama-disaster-relief-fund. Learn more about the relief fund at https://gbdisasterrelief.org. This website provides contribution information for the Grand Bahama Disaster Relief Fund at Coastal Community Foundation and will be updated with local resource information.