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Fueled by Climate Change, Hurricane Dorian Devastates the Bahamas in “Unprecedented Disaster”

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Hurricane Dorian is continuing to wreak havoc in the Bahamas, where massive storms and flooding have killed five people and left many stranded on the Grand Bahama and Abaco Islands over the weekend. The Category 3 storm pummeled the islands throughout Monday with up to 180-mile-per-hour winds and continued to be stalled in the region Tuesday. Hurricane Dorian is one of the strongest recorded storms to ever strike the Atlantic, and is expected to continue a destructive path toward Florida and then onward to the coasts of Georgia and South Carolina. It made landfall as a Category 5 storm in the Bahamas Sunday. We speak to two guests: Christian Campbell, a Bahamian poet, scholar and essayist, and Tiphanie Yanique, an award-winning poet and novelist from the U.S. Virgin Island of St. Thomas.

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StorySep 06, 2019“We Are on the Frontline”: Despite Tiny Carbon Footprint, Bahamas Is Ground Zero of Climate Crisis
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Hurricane Dorian is continuing to wreak havoc in the Bahamas, where massive storms and flooding killed at least five people and left many more stranded on the Grand Bahama and Abaco Islands over the weekend. The storm pummeled the islands throughout Monday after making landfall Sunday as a Category 5 storm with sustained winds up to 185 miles per hour. The hurricane, which has now been downgraded to a Category 3, continued to be stalled in the region Tuesday. This is the prime minister of the Bahamas, Hubert Minnis, speaking at a news conference [sic].

DARREN HENFIELD: From all accounts, we have received catastrophic damage. … And it’s not safe to go outdoors. Power lines are down. Lamp poles are down. Trees are across the street. It is very dangerous to be outdoors.

AMY GOODMAN: Hurricane Dorian is the second-strongest storm ever measured in the Atlantic. It’s tied for the most powerful Atlantic hurricane ever to make landfall. It’s expected to continue a destructive path toward Florida, then on to Georgia and South Carolina. It made landfall as a Category 5 storm, but President Trump claimed over the weekend he had never heard of Category 5.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We don’t even know what’s coming at us. All we know is it’s possibly the biggest. I have — not sure. I’m not sure that I’ve ever even heard of a Category 5. I knew it existed, and I’ve seen some Category 4s. You don’t even see them that much. But a Category 5 is something that I don’t know that I’ve ever even heard the term, other than I know it’s there. That’s the ultimate, and that’s what we have, unfortunately.

AMY GOODMAN: The U.S. has been threatened by four Category 5 storms during Trump’s presidency. He also denied knowing what a Category 5 storm was in 2017, when Hurricane Irma struck Florida, and in 2018, when Hurricane Michael hit Florida. This is the fourth year in a row a Category 5 storm in the Atlantic, and climate studies suggest this trend will only worsen over time with the climate crisis.

Trump also caused confusion Sunday by falsely suggesting Alabama would be hit by Hurricane Dorian. He repeated this. His tweet — one of 122 he posted this weekend — was quickly refuted by the National Weather Service. Trump spent the long weekend golfing at his club in Virginia, despite the hurricane and the massacre in West Texas. That first clip we heard was the foreign minister for the Bahamas, Darren Henfield. This is the prime minister of the Bahamas, Hubert Minnis, speaking at a news conference.

PRIME MINISTER HUBERT MINNIS: We are in the midst of a historic tragedy in parts of northern Bahamas. Our mission and focus now is search, rescue and recovery. I ask for your prayers for those in affected areas and for our first responders.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we’re joined by two guests. In Chicago, Christian Campbell is with us. He is a poet, scholar and essayist from the Bahamas. His family lives in Nassau. He was born in Grand Bahama, visiting artist at the Art Institute of Chicago, author of a poetry collection called Running the Dusk.

And in Atlanta, Georgia, we’re joined by Tiphanie Yanique, an award-winning poet and novelist from the U.S. Virgin Island of St. Thomas, which was hit by Hurricane Irma as a Category 5 storm in 2017, associate professor in the English Department at Emory and the author of the poetry collection Wife and the novel Land of Love and Drowning.

Christian Campbell, let’s start with you. You were born in and grew up in the Bahamas. What have you heard about what’s happening there right now, the hurricane almost stopping on top of the Bahamas right now and devastating the islands, of which there are hundreds?

CHRISTIAN CAMPBELL: Good morning, Amy. Thank you for having me on the program.

I’ve been in constant touch with my family and many other loved ones. As you know, the hurricane has demolished Abaco and is now hovering over Grand Bahama, where I was born. So, what’s happening now are many Bahamians online are trying to contact loved ones, are reaching out through Facebook and Twitter, because many phones are down, and trying to identify loved ones and find ways to support and evacuate. It’s an unprecedented disaster. And I also want to say, first and foremost, deepest condolences to the families of those who have lost loved ones, including a child.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Christian Campbell, what about the — what do you know in terms of the Haitian migrants?


JUAN GONZÁLEZ: There’s quite a number of Haitian migrants in the Bahamas. And their condition right now?

CHRISTIAN CAMPBELL: Absolutely, absolutely. Well, one of the things that these natural and unnatural disasters reveal is how those most vulnerable are disproportionately affected. And as I understand, in Abaco in particular, where there is a large population of Haitian migrants, that the community in which they live has been destroyed and engulfed, and many of them have had to escape to shelters.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re also joined by Tiphanie Yanique, who was born in the Virgin Islands, the Virgin Island of St. Thomas. Interestingly, the U.S. Virgin Islands were bought from Denmark by the United States in 1917 for $25 million. That doesn’t have — I don’t know if it has an impact on what we’re seeing today. But, Professor Yanique, you have said that the Caribbean is ground zero for the climate crisis. And I want to say, in the nonstop coverage in the networks — and, of course, it should be nonstop coverage — of what’s happening with this hurricane, there is almost no mention of climate change.

TIPHANIE YANIQUE: Yes. Well, good morning, Amy. Good morning, Juan. Thank you for having me again.

The truth is that these storms that are hitting the Caribbean with this intense magnitude are historic, unprecedented, and these storms are man-made storms. When I was growing up in the Caribbean, we would get really dangerous storms once a decade. And now we’re beginning to see them regularly. The Virgin Islands was hit by two Category 5 storms only two years ago, while President Trump indeed was our president: Category 5 storms Irma and Maria in 2017.

And to see now that the coverage is saying things like “Dorian is going to hit the United States later today” is incredibly insulting, an ongoing insult to the people of the United States Virgin Islands, because Dorian hit the United States Virgin Islands on August 28th, when it hit St. Thomas and St. John.

As Dr. Campbell said, it is quite ironic and saddening that the people who are most vulnerable to these man-made storms are the ones who, in all cases, are not the contributing factors to the carbon emissions that are causing these storms. These storms are being caused in huge part because of capital, U.S. North American capital, and places like the Virgin Islands and the Bahamas are the ones that are most vulnerable to these things.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And I wanted to ask you, in terms of the potential impact, because we’re at the beginning of hurricane season, for the Caribbean, what the Caribbean is facing. Now, clearly, we’re talking about one of the most powerful storms recorded in Atlantic history, but the actual recording of hurricane speeds didn’t begin until the 1960s, so we really don’t know, in comparison to what happened in the early 20th century or the late 19th century, how these storms compare. But there’s no doubt that there have been increasing numbers of ever more powerful storms. Your sense, as the Caribbean braces for another hurricane season, what folks are thinking about there?

TIPHANIE YANIQUE: The truth is, writers from the Caribbean, such as myself, Edwidge Danticat, Tobias Buckell, Dr. Campbell himself, are writing about the importance of us paying attention to these storms and how the Caribbean, all our islands, are incredibly vulnerable. We are looking at a Category 1 storm hitting the U.S. Virgin Islands on August 28th. Hurricane season goes until November 30th. And September is our most dangerous month, and September has only just begun. The waters are incredibly warm. Climate change is real, and it is impacting places that are low-lying, like small islands in the Caribbean, with incredible, incredible pain and suffering. Right now people in the Virgin Islands are experiencing, I would say, a form of PTSD.

When we were told that the storms were going to hit the Virgin Islands, we were told that this storm, Dorian, was going to be really not much, maybe wouldn’t even make it to a Category 1 storm. And it hit the Virgin Islands as a direct hit as a Category 1. We were not prepared. Nobody was boarding up their windows. I was on the phone with friends and family at the time, and people were saying, “The storm is fine.” But then, by the end of the conversation, maybe just 20 minutes into our conversation, people were saying, “Well, the leaves are off the trees now. I have to go and board up my house.” We weren’t prepared.

And we are still actually suffering from the storms that hit in 2017. So, to say that we are not prepared is hugely in part because FEMA’s work — and most Virgin Islanders would say this — FEMA’s work from 2017 is not yet completed. So the fact that we now need FEMA to come back and reassess in the wake of Hurricane Dorian is just compounding the problems. People are afraid. We are scared. I would say the emotional health of individuals in the Virgin Islands is something that FEMA needs to be paying attention to, as well. We are still suffering from two years ago. So, to be facing a hurricane season that is still three months left to go is incredibly distressing.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, the Bahamas, Dr. Campbell, are an independent commonwealth, one of the richest countries in the Americas, after the United States and Canada, thanks to tourism, offshore finance. Ninety percent of the population is Afro-Bahamian, descendants of enslaved people. Of course, the — and also people who fled slavery in the United States to go to the Bahamas. Can you describe your country and what you think needs to happen right now?

CHRISTIAN CAMPBELL: Well, I mean, I think the thing that I want to begin with, given international media misinformation, is that the Bahamas is not a sort of single-island stereotypical tourist paradise. It is one of the most complex and unique geographical spaces in this hemisphere. In fact, there’s nothing like it. It is an archipelago, or chain of islands and keys, of over 700 islands and keys within the larger archipelago of the Caribbean.

And so, just to add to one thing that Professor Yanique said is that even though it was completely or almost completely erased in international media, the Bahamas was also hit by Hurricane Irma. A very small island near to Cuba called Ragged Island was devastated by Hurricane Irma. It had to be completely evacuated. It still is in the process of being rebuilt. You know, we’re still dealing with that trauma and that physical and also cultural displacement, because when you — the Bahamas, it ranges from near — the islands range from near to Haiti and Cuba in the south to near to Florida in the north. So, in terms of the geography, where my family is, for instance, in Nassau, we’re extremely fortunate that they were spared. They weren’t hit. It was Abaco — it is Abaco and the Grand Bahama, which are in the northern part of the Bahamas.

And just to continue with points you made, Amy, is that, absolutely, you know, we must take what you say about the Bahamas as one of the richest countries in the region. The tourism industry, which is the main source, economic source, is extremely fragile and extremely precarious industry. And also that the Bahamas, like the rest of the Caribbean, is extremely vulnerable also due to the ongoing legacy of colonialism, the legacy of slavery and indenture that sort of manifested in systemic global exploitation and local corruption, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’re going to have to leave it there now, but of course we will continue to follow this. We want to thank you, Dr. Christian Campbell, Bahamian poet, scholar and essayist — his family lives in Nassau — born in Grand Bahama, visiting artist at the Art Institute of Chicago. And thank you to Professor Tiphanie Yanique, award-winning poet and novelist from the U.S. Virgin Island of St. Thomas, which was hit by Hurricane Irma as a Category 5 storm in 2017.

When we come back, we go to Hong Kong as the mass protests against China enter their fourth month. Stay with us.

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