By Kayleaser Deveaux-Isaacs, General Manager, ZNS

We have never experienced such devastation as we did in Hurricane Dorian; it was awesome and awful!

It has been difficult to put to paper what was experienced, but as the General Manager of the National Broadcasting Station, The Broadcasting Corporation of The Bahamas (ZNS), it feels a duty to add my voice to the information already out there.

We planned, as we usually did, early to have our 2019 Hurricane Preparedness Plan revised and updated with news teams identified for which islands around the country with their gear, and the other production elements such as maps, shelter lists, graphic alerts for television, ready for air or in development.  Fuel for the generators and equipment all checked… We were ready as usual!

The Bahamas, an island nation with a chain of islands, got its warning from the National Hurricane Center (NHC) as early as August 26th, 2019.  It was then Tropical Storm Dorian.  August 28th, the NHC forecasted for Dorian to pass near the northern Bahamas as a major hurricane. On August 30th, the Prime Minister of The Bahamas, other Government officials and agencies made every effort to warn those residents in the Northern Bahamas including Abaco, Grand Bahama, Bimini, Eleuthera and New Providence of the major hurricane approaching.

Let’s go back a little to July of this year.  An exciting time for The Broadcasting Corporation of The Bahamas as the seven-year delay in finalizing the second phase of our digital upgrade took place in Freeport, Grand Bahama (Northern Service Bureau).

ZNS new studio
The ZNS studio. Credit: ZNS

On July 26th, 2019 we launched the second phase of the Digital Upgrade at the Broadcasting Corporation of The Bahamas’ Northern Service (Freeport, Grand Bahama).  It was a special occasion for me as I saw the first stage completed as Acting General Manager, and now the second phase completed as General Manager. I told the staff then “that [we] must be ready to share with the Bahamian people the news and information unlike before, we are in a new time at ZNS.” Little did I know, on September 1-4th, 2019, we would be showing via our new studio and technology the disaster caused by Hurricane Dorian.

On September 1-4th, two of the country’s northern islands, Abaco and Grand Bahama were devastated by Hurricane Dorian, a Category five monster.  The Radio and Television Studio in Freeport began to take on water as the outer bans approached Freeport, Grand Bahama.

ZNS studio takes on water
A ZNS studio takes on water. Credit: ZNS

Meanwhile on September 1-2 the Category 5 Hurricane had pummelled Abaco.  Tossing boats and trailers and anything in its path like they were toys.

On September 1st, the eye of Hurricane Dorian made landfall on the island of Abaco with maximum sustained winds of 185mph, making it the strongest hurricane on record to affect The Bahamas.  On September 2nd, 2019 the eye of Dorian moved over the eastern end of Grand Bahama Island and drifted across the island.  The storm tide was estimated to be about 20-25 ft in some areas of Grand Bahama.

As a Broadcast professional, it was difficult to see and hear the live pictures from our colleagues at the Northern Service as they tried to tell the Bahamian people what was happening

On Abaco island, Dorian managed to knock out the power, water and telecommunications and sewerage services on that island.  For several days Marsh Harbour was underwater, and the airport was closed. Nearly 90% of Marsh Harbour’s infrastructure was damaged.  The immigrant communities were destroyed due to their poor housing structures.

Grand Bahama island suffered wide-spread power outage, an oil refinery was damaged and caused a great environmental disaster, nearly 300 homes were destroyed or severely damaged.

As a Broadcast professional, it was difficult to see and hear the live pictures from our colleagues at the Northern Service as they tried to tell the Bahamian people what was happening.  The building they were in was beginning to flood and they could see the water coming closer and closer through the windows at the station.  The anchors tried to keep their composure as they were getting text messages from their own family members in Grand Bahama who asked on air for help as they needed rescuing from the rising water. No one thought the water would come so far inland in the city center of Freeport.

Devastation caused by Dorian
Credit: ZNS
Devastation caused by Dorian
Credit: ZNS

The eyes of the world focused on our islands.  But we found ourselves also reminding the world that Abaco and Grand Bahama do not make up The Bahamas, we have another fifteen islands still in very good condition and ready to welcome visitors to our country.

We at ZNS headquarters in New Providence, Nassau and the capital of The Bahamas, the most densely populated of the island, got lots of rain and flooding.

We were lucky; had that hurricane come our way, the capital would have been a massive rescue and clean-up effort.

The days after the hurricane became a little chaotic for all the agencies, including us at ZNS.  We had no time to rest!

Flooding Freeport ZNS
Flooding in Freeport. Credit: ZNS

There was a lot of information to get out, we had many live press conferences on both radio and television, and the nation was listening to the National Voice (ZNS).  It seemed also exciting as we realized, this is why we exist!  No other broadcast station, radio or television could reach every island, but ZNS.  Even in Freeport, with much damage, we found ways to ensure we were heard and seen.  As the building in Freeport became more compromised, New Providence carried much of the load until the Engineering team at the Northern Service found the means to be seen and heard again and the tossing back and forth was beautiful to experience during and after the Hurricane because we could not do that before the digital upgrade.

Even in Freeport, with much damage, we found ways to ensure we were heard and seen.

Because we were the only station with live video from Grand Bahama, the world was watching ZNS.  We had very little pictures from Abaco as the communications networks were all down.  Our online and social media viewers skyrocketed, and I am sure we now have many more fans from around the world and locally, as a result of being the only continuous live broadcast from August 30th – September 4th when the all clear was given.

The Bahamian people received help from around the world!  It was great to have help from our friends in the Caribbean, the US, Europe, China, United Kingdom, Asia, Canada, many countries are still sending help.  We say thank you to all for the help.

This region has never experienced such a catastrophe and as we regroup, we are all noting the lessons from Hurricane Dorian to start the rebuilding and reforming our strategies.

Many lives have been lost and at this time, the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) several weeks later has identified the official death toll at 67 lives lost as of October 28th, 2019 nearly two months later.  We are expecting many more to be declared dead as there are many more still missing.

Hurricane Dorian stats
Hurricane Dorian Weekly stats 28 October 2019. Credit: NEMA

The PMA thanks Kayleaser for taking the time to write this report. Public service media and public interest media are essential tools in informing citizens about crises and emergency events. This includes how best to prepare, report during, and in the aftermath of an event like the catastrophic Hurricane Dorian.

Our thoughts go to all those impacted by the hurricane.

The Broadcasting Corporation of the Bahamas (ZNS) is a member of the Public Media Alliance. 


Header Image: Devastation caused by Hurricane Dorian. Credit: ZNS