“I like Ike” might have been a spiffy sounding campaign slogan during the U.S. presidential elections of the 1950s. But mention the name “Ike” today and you’re more likely to invoke images of Haitian peasants carrying their meager belongings on their heads while wading through waist deep flood waters, residents of the Florida Keys anxiously boarding up their homes and businesses while evacuation buses make their rounds, or Dr. Steve Lyons giving the latest hurricane update on the Weather Channel.
It’s hard to believe that less than a week ago the Bahamas was threatened by three major storms lining up to take aim at us: Hanna, Ike and Josephine. Compared to Ike–a very dangerous Category 4 storm–Hanna and Josephine were child’s play and so the prospect of Ike’s imminent arrival quickly became our main focus of concern as we began our hurricane preparations.
By Thursday afternoon, most folks were prepared for the worst. But the worst would have to wait. Hanna–a “mere” tropical storm–was first in queue and, as it turned out, it made its northward journey just to the east of the Bahamian archipelago, leaving us with only a smattering of light rain and occasional gusty winds. When we woke up to clear skies and sunshine the next morning, we also learned that Tropical Storm Josephine–which had been trailing along behind Ike–had fizzled out midway across the Atlantic. So far so good. Two down, one more to go.
Then we waited. And we waited some more. For three days we meticulously studied the incoming hurricane updates while the sweltering tropical sun baked us inside our boarded up apartment building. But due to a high pressure system, Ike continued on a steady westward trajectory, totally bypassing the central and northern Bahamian islands and leaving us with not so much as a single drop of rain and only an occasional minor gust of wind.
Our neighbors to the south were not so lucky.
Early Sunday morning, Ike made its first landfall on the British owned Turks and Caicos Islands, destroying over 80 percent of the homes, leveling trees and utility poles, leaving the local hospital without a roof and inflicting severe damage on the already overcrowded prison.
Inagua, the southernmost island of the Bahamas, was next in line where, amongst other things, Ike ripped the hurricane shutters off two local storm shelters and caused the roof to collapse on another. Nearly two days later there are still, unbelievably, no reported fatalities from either locale.
Monday, the Cuban mountains put the brakes on Ike, slowing it down to Category 1 hurricane. Though, that may be of little comfort to those in western Cuba who were left homeless following Hurricane Gustav’s visit just a little over a week ago. Of course, we can’t forget the Dominican Republic and, especially, Haiti, both of whom were already saturated with flood waters from Hurricanes Fay, Gustav and Hanna and didn’t really need to experience their fourth major storm in just three weeks.
As hard as it may be to believe, we are both very disappointed and greatly relieved that Ike never made it to Nassau. Given all the hard work that goes into preparing for a hurricane and, then, all of the sitting around and waiting that comes after that, how could one possibly not be disappointed? Yet as we look at the destruction that has followed in the wake of Ike and recognize the inadequacy of even our best preparations in the face of such a powerful storm, we are greatly relieved that we did not have to live through such a terrifying experience, let alone its aftermath.
But with relief also comes guilt as we struggle with our own version of the age old question, “Why does God allow the innocent to suffer?” Why was our island spared while other islands (or entire countries) with greater poverty and fewer resources continue to be hit over and over and over again? Even a cursory glance at the map makes it clear that if a hurricane misses us, it’s almost impossible for it to slip through without striking elsewhere. Thus, our salvation comes at the expense of someone else.
But spared we were, at least for now. Meteorologists predict that there will be seven more named storms during this year’s Atlantic hurricane season. Three of those storms will be hurricanes and one of those three will be a Category 3 storm or higher.
Since hurricane season is not over until Nov. 30, there’s still a good possibility that Nassau may be hit. And if it doesn’t happen this year, there’s always next year or even the year after that.
The hurricane calculus is really quite simple. It’s not a question of if we’ll be hit but when. So for us, Hurricane Ike was a sobering wake up call–a call to be better prepared the next time around.
Daniel Schweissing and his wife Estela are American Baptist missionaries in the Bahamas. This article previously appeared on his blog Doing Theology from the Caribbean.