Hurricane Dorian struck the Bahamas with Category 5 winds, causing loss of life, mass displacement, and extensive damage in many areas.
Direct Relief quickly mobilized shipments of medical aid for emergency medical teams providing care in isolated areas, as well as hospitals and clinics working to treat evacuees.
In addition to delivering requested medical aid in the storm's aftermath, Direct Relief is committed to strengthening the country's health system as recovery continues.
Dorian Recovery Continues
On August 31, 2019, Hurricane Dorian made landfall over the Bahamian islands of Grand Bahama and the Abacos. Dorian was not only the most powerful hurricane on record to strike the Bahamas, with wind gusts up to 220 mph, but it also stalled over the Caribbean nation and battered it with hurricane-force winds for a record-breaking 40 hours. Dorian brought an estimated 40 inches of rainfall and created a 23-foot storm surge in the most affected areas that left a trail of destruction. The combination of sustained hurricane-force winds with torrential rainfall and extreme storm surge resulted in devastation to many communities, particularly in eastern Grand Bahama and the northern Abacos. Over 75,000 Bahamians were directly affected and many lost their homes and were forced to evacuate.
Hurricane Dorian’s battering of the Bahamas led to a complex disaster response situation, including extensive emergency medical needs across multiple islands. Given the scale of damage to infrastructure, normal logistics pipelines were closed into impacted areas, so Direct Relief worked with a range of partners to hand-deliver emergency medicines to where they were needed via large and small watercraft, small aircraft, and helicopters. Direct Relief was able to get emergency medicines and supplies to all of the functioning health facilities and then maintain resupply requests.
As the response continued, Direct Relief deployed emergency resources via formal agreements with the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency, the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States, the Pan American Health Organization, and dozens of NGO and government entities, including in the Bahamas.
Direct Relief has provided more than 98 tons of medical aid, worth more than $7.9 million (wholesale), amounting to more than 1.4 million defined daily doses of medication, since Hurricane Dorian made landfall. This medical aid was distributed to local clinics, shelters and hospitals, including the main hospitals in Marsh Harbor and Freeport. This support includes cold chain shipments, containing vaccines, insulin and other temperature-sensitive medications. Direct Relief also expanded cold storage capacity by donating FDA-compliant refrigerators and freezers so vaccines and other cold chain items could be properly stored.
Direct Relief has worked closely with the MOH and the Supply Management Division (SMA) to assess needs from across the country, receive requests, and distribute donated medical goods.
A year has passed since the hurricane hit, and serious challenges for communities and authorities remain in many areas. In the hardest-hit areas, debris removal remains a huge task, utilities and services are still offline, and much of the infrastructure and a large percentage of homes are either under repair or yet to be repaired or rebuilt. However, even in the face of such difficult times, optimism persists. Local people remain resilient, and schools, hospitals, and other vital infrastructure is being prioritized with rebuilding underway.
Responding to Needs
Since Hurricane Dorian made landfall, Direct Relief has:
- Supplied Emergency Health Kits, Emergency Backpacks, and a range of other supplies in support of medical teams. During the emergency phase of the disaster, Direct Relief supported and enabled multiple Emergency Medical Teams with four Emergency Health Kits, 15 medical backpacks, and a range of other supplies. These teams include NYC Medics, Green Cay Clinic, Global Support and Development, and a team of medics from Puerto Rico.
- Delivered more than 98 tons of requested medicines and supplies. Direct Relief worked in coordination with the SMA and MOH to distribute the products to local clinics, shelters, and hospitals.
- Delivered adult and pediatric tetanus and TDAP vaccines, insulin, and injectable antibiotics to combat a syphilis outbreak. Direct Relief dispatched four cold-chain donations valued at $1,128,714.
- Fully equipped four ambulances donated by Global Medical Response (GMR). These ambulances are now in the Bahamas and are filling the gap in emergency health services created due to hurricane damage to MOH ambulances.
- Delivered 76 hospital beds and 10 birthing beds for Princess Margaret Hospital in order to manage the huge influx of evacuees into Nassau.
- Delivered FDA-approved vaccine refrigerators and freezers to health facilities. Upon request and in order to enable the MOH to conduct vitally important vaccine campaigns and effectively store cold-chain medications, Direct Relief donated vaccine fridges and freezers. The units are being used at the Rand Hospital in Grand Bahama, Marsh Harbour Clinic on Abaco, and at the National Immunization Center in Nassau.
- Supported the operation of a mobile medical bus on the Abacos. The mobile facility is providing primary care and basic lab services to affected communities in remote areas on Grand Abaco.
Recovery and Rehabilitation
The islands are a year into the recovery phase of the disaster, and immediate medical supply requests have given way to an urgent need to get health infrastructure back online. The percentage of damaged health infrastructure remains very high and Direct Relief is coordinating with the MOH to support the rehabilitation and reconstruction of hospitals and health clinics across Grand Bahama and the Abacos. At the same time, while working on the restoration of access to health facilities for impacted populations, Direct Relief is working towards the strengthening of human resources via advanced training for key nursing and maternal and child health workers.
At the request of the Bahamian MOH, Direct Relief has committed to supporting a number of large health infrastructure projects including:
- The purchase, delivery, and connection of a containerized operating theater designed to restore essential operating room capacity at Rand Memorial Hospital, the largest referral hospital in Grand Bahama which serves an estimated 80,000 patients. Direct Relief is also supporting the reconstruction of the full operating theater within the hospital, which was rendered unusable – along with significant parts of the hospital itself – by hurricane-related storm surges and flooding. The temporary containerized solution allows for services that had been conducted in tents for months until threatened by the approach of Tropical Strom Isaiah in late July.
- The hospital has also received extensive support for post-disaster repairs from Direct Relief and its partners in the months following Hurricane Dorian, including demolition, structural expansions, new build-outs, and the repair or replacement of more than 150 items of medical equipment.
- In addition, working with the Bahamian MOH and other international aid organizations and corporate partners, Direct Relief has now funded or has begun to fund a number of large-scale health infrastructure projects, including designs and construction of a brand-new clinic to replace the High Rock Community Clinic that was totally destroyed on Grand Bahama during the hurricane. The organization is also building a new clinic in Great Guana Cay and supporting major repairs to Marsh Harbor Clinic, the largest referral hospital on the island of Marsh Harbor, in addition to funding and overseeing repairs and new construction of on-site medical staff housing.
- Repairs are also occurring at other health clinics that suffered damages across Grand Bahama and the Abacos, McLean’s Town, Cooperstown, and Green Turtle Cay.
- Repairs have been fully completed to Hope Town Clinic and, one-year later, the clinic is now open and operational for seeing patients.
Responding to Hurricane Dorian in the U.S.
After finally leaving the Bahamas, Hurricane Dorian headed northeast and traveled all the way up the coast, ending its long run on September 8, 2019, when it made landfall in Nova Scotia, Canada. Winds from the weakened but still destructive storm knocked out power to hundreds of thousands before it finally headed back out to sea.
In Puerto Rico, the storm delivered heavy rain and flooding but did not cause extensive damage – an enormous relief for the island which is still recovering from the destruction caused by Hurricane Maria. Damages sustained as a result of Hurricane Dorian in the U.S. were most significant in South Carolina, where heavy flooding affected the city of Charleston, and in North Carolina, where the storm generated more than a dozen tornadoes and made landfall on Cape Hatteras, bringing substantial rainfall and powerful winds.
Through Direct Relief’s longstanding Hurricane Preparedness Program, 24 hurricane preparedness packs – designed to treat 100 patients for the first 72 hours after a disaster – were already prepositioned with safety-net medical clinics and health centers in areas that were predicted to be impacted or along evacuation routes. Following the storm’s march up the east coast, Direct Relief coordinated its efforts with the Florida Health Department and its extensive network of charitable and community clinics extending from Florida through North Carolina. In total, 46 emergency shipments, with a total value of over $1.3 million (wholesale), were delivered to 12 healthcare facilities and agencies caring for people affected by Hurricane Dorian in Florida, North Carolina, and Puerto Rico.
The Effect of Covid-19
In early 2020, while some areas of the Bahamas still lacked power or running water, overall recovery efforts continued, but the pandemic introduced new complications. Covid-19 not only threatened the island’s residents but also caused nonprofits and corporations involved in recovery efforts to withdraw staff and resources. While island facilities had received donations of personal protective equipment (PPE) during the Dorian response, and the government took steps such as implementing a widespread telehealth program to support residents and healthcare providers as much as possible, there was a need for PPE supplies to protect frontline health providers and facility staff.
Leaning into the relationships established months earlier during Dorian relief efforts, Direct Relief provided more than 17,000 masks, 94,000 gloves, 3,500 gowns and coveralls, 200 face shields, and other types of PPE to help health systems meet the added challenges created by Covid-19 in the middle of extensive recovery efforts.
Direct Relief understands that the road to recovery in the Bahamas will be long and support of essential healthcare services on the island must not end until repairs are complete and facilities’ doors re-open. A year after Hurricane Dorian struck an island nation that expects to be in the path of increasingly frequent and intense storms, Direct Relief has established a deeply-rooted and extensive partner network that will help health systems and services across the country’s islands and cays remain strong.
At the start of the Atlantic hurricane season in early summer 2020, Direct Relief pre-positioned hurricane preparedness packs, which provide the supplies needed to meet the needs of 1,000 patients for a month following an emergency, with partners in the Bahamas for the first time. This will enable health providers to have medical goods on hand in the event of a hurricane or major storm.
Direct Relief is committed to providing ongoing support to partners in the Bahamas to ensure quality care for its most vulnerable citizens going forward.