What we can learn from storms

ARMSTRONG WILLIAMS | 9/12/2019, 3:01 p.m.
As Tropic storm Dorian tore through the Bahamas this week, wreaking havoc and causing loss of human life and destruction ...
Armstrong Williams

As Tropic storm Dorian tore through the Bahamas this week, wreaking havoc and causing loss of human life and destruction of property in the billions of dollars, many of us sat transfixed before the spectacle unfolding on our television screen, wondering how nature could have dealt our beloved neighbor such a cruel hand. But the reality is that we should not have been surprised.

We are in hurricane season, and in most years there are dozens of tropic storms, caused by the confluence of cold artic air meeting warm tropical seas. Most years those storms rage offshore in the middle of the ocean before petering out far enough away to avoid landfall. They rarely directly hit land, but that is more by happenstance than by design. The landmass of the Caribbean is dwarfed more than 9-to-1 by the surface area covered by water.

Even still, there have been epic storms in years past. Bahamians have been used to the ravages as well as the bounties of the sea. These Islands were originally founded as pastoral colonies—places where British navy, explorers and pirates alike would drop livestock, pigs and goats primarily, who could propagate on the rocky, sandy conditions—so that they could restock their stores with fresh meat along their journeys. The Islands were not intended to become major human settlements, as they were not in fact used as such until the aftermath of the Revolutionary War in America.

At that time, colonial plantation owners in the South (primarily South Carolina) who had sided with the British against American independence found themselves under some threat of retribution. As recompense for having supported the empire during the war, the British offered these plantation owners some of the uninhabited pastoral Islands in the Caribbean—including the Bahamas and neighboring Turks and Caicos. They arrived in the later end of the eighteenth century with their slaves in tow. But after several failed seasons—having discovered that the harsh, rocky soil of these Islands was far less hospitable to large-scale farming than the lush marshlands of the South Carolina low country—they essentially abandoned their operations, leaving all of the slaves they had imported stranded on the Islands, much like the livestock they had deposited over the previous centuries of exploration and conquest.

The descendants of these marooned former South Carolinians proved to be a hardy race indeed. Though stranded with literally not a boat or an oar, they managed to eke, by the sweat of their brows, a meager living from small-scale farming and fishing. They eventually built boats from driftwood—and the remnants of shipwrecks that washed up on the Islands in the aftermath of tropical storms. With these rudimentary boats, they learned to navigate the Caribbean seas by starlight, and eventually became expert fisherman, wringing a significant bounty from the sea. With nothing on the Island to destroy, it seemed that the vicissitudes of nature worked largely in the Islanders’ favor.

Meanwhile, back in the Carolinas and in Georgia, those tropical storms slammed into the mainland with such force that they created massive flooding of the inland waterways. They created almost permanent swamp-like conditions in the low countries. Those proved to be ideal for the planting of rice, and large-scale rice plantations arose in those areas. Again, man harnessed nature’s awesome power to secure his earthly bounty.