International Medical Corps is responding in the Bahamas to assist survivors of Hurricane Dorian
When Hurricane Dorian arrived in the Caribbean during the final days of August 2019, it initially hit Puerto Rico, where many residents are still reeling from the devastation of 2017’s Hurricane Maria. Carrying winds of 75 mph and heavy localized rainfall. Dorian then developed into a dangerous Category 5 storm before slamming into the northwestern Bahamas, where it caused major damage. With sustained wind of 185 mph, gusts of up to 220 mph and storm surges as high as 23 feet, Dorian hit the Bahamas as the strongest hurricane ever recorded in the island nation’s history. As recovery efforts continue months after the storm, the official death toll has risen to 70, but with hundreds still missing that number could rise further.
After devastating the Bahamas, the slow-moving hurricane tracked up the east coast of the United States, affecting Florida, Georgia, the Carolinas and Virginia. In preparation for the storm, the governors of these states declared states of emergency, to help state agencies better deal with the effects of the storm, including damage caused by high winds, dangerous storm surges, flash flooding and widespread loss of electric power.
In response to the catastrophic damage Dorian left in its wake in the Bahamas, International Medical Corps deployed a emergency response team consisting of doctors, nurses, logisticians, mental health and psychosocial support services (MHPSS) specialists, and water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) specialists. The Bahamian government asked us to help lead assessment efforts throughout Grand Bahama island and provide medical care throughout the island, especially in eastern areas, which were the most affected by the storm and where the health system has been decimated. Communities in central Grand Bahama also sustained significant damage. In Nassau and on Grand Bahama, we continue to have specialists on the ground to address ongoing needs through mobile units as well as through our emergency medical health facility in High Rock.
The extended uncertainty surrounding the fate of those still unaccounted for, together with the island’s devastated infrastructure and social services have combined to exacerbate mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) needs, especially for individuals with chronic and severe mental health conditions that require ongoing treatment and support. Because of this, the Bahamas Ministry of Health has cited psychological stress, the risk of anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress as major healthcare concerns moving forward. Our MHPSS team is working closely with the Bahamas Mental Health and Social Services staff to address these needs across Grand Bahama.
As Dorian moved slowly westwards toward the U.S. mainland, International Medical Corps also responded to a request by the Florida Department of Health (FDOH) for assistance by deploying medical and other health-related teams to support the state’s emergency operations. The emergency response team included staff with medical and logistical expertise who traveled to the State Emergency Operations Center in Tallahassee to prepare for the storm’s impact. We then deployed medical teams to help the FDOH provide emergency health services to vulnerable populations in and around Palm Coast along the state’s central Atlantic Coast. In additiona, we consulted with state authorities and local partners in the Carolinas to help them respond to the storm, which brought high winds, flooding and tornadoes to their area. We worked with the North Carolina Primary Care Association to determine how best to support their response needs, especially on hard-hit Ocracoke Island.
In Puerto Rico, International Medical Corps’ field team coordinated with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Department of Health and the Puerto Rico Emergency Management Agency (PREMA) before operations returned to normal there.