In the Eye of the Hurricane

Voices from the Future | Dave Mackey

In the Eye of the Hurricane

The Event: Hurricane Dorian slammed into Grand Bahama Island on September 1, 2019, with 200 mph winds. The storm and its torrential rains stalled over the island for more than 40 hours and wreaked havoc across residential areas as water levels rose 18 to 23 feet above normal. Seventy people lost their lives, and property damages were estimated at about $8.28 billion.

From where he sat in his two-story home on the tropical island of Grand Bahama, Dave Mackey, the president and visual producer of an online news site, was well prepared for the storm. So from there, he recorded the category-five hurricane as it pounded his home island, battering homes and trees and tossing around objects, like shipping containers, as though they were little toys.

“The canal across my house was raging like an ocean,” he says. ”I really was concerned if we would come out alive.”

Mackey had experienced and survived two hurricanes before — Jeanne, which hit the island in 1998, and Frances, which hit in 2004.

“At that time, I lived in a beachside community, and left my house to stay with friends,” Mackey says. “Now, I chose to stay. I videotaped the hurricane and posted updates online and on social media. At best, we got 2 million views.”

Mackey was able to avoid the hurricane because he built his home to withstand extreme weather conditions. “We have hurricane impact windows and a front door,” he says. ”The house is 20 feet up from the water level and it is built on 41 special pilings – heavy stakes to support the foundation, instead of a concrete foundation that can crack during the flooding.”

Across the canal, Mackey’s neighbors weren’t as lucky. They lived in a one-story house, which stood only 5 feet higher than the water level — a new minimum standard set by the government to protect buildings from the impact of hurricanes.

“We had agreed to use walkie-talkies to communicate during the storm,“ Mackey says. “Last time I talked to them – the parents, their daughter and five dogs – had climbed onto their kitchen counter to escape the rising waters inside their house.”

As the storm kept raging, Mackey became increasingly alarmed. He witnessed the storm water washing away one wall of the neighbor’s house. Part of their roof ripped off, too.

“In my panic, I thought they were gone, too,” Mackey says. “At that point, we had lost the contact, but what I didn’t know was that they had been able to leave their house. This happened just before the storm water rose up to 20 feet and isolated our area from the bridge, which is the only way to get out from here.”

From that point on, Mackey was stranded in his house as the storm hovered over the island for three more days.

“At one point, I saw the water only two steps away from our front door,” he says. “I knew that the high tide would come around 11 p.m. I kept paying attention to the water. Hours went by, the waves kept coming in and, finally, they started to recede. Only then I felt comfortable enough to go to bed.”

Despite the difficult conditions — Mackey’s house lost electricity, the winds were so powerful that he couldn’t open his front door, and there was no running water — he and his family felt safe.

“My downstairs was totally flooded and destroyed,“ he says. “My ‘man cave’ with music gear, my speakers, my sound system and all of our tools, as well as one bathroom were all consumed by the storm.”

Later, he realized he could make use of the rainwater upstairs. “My wife and I had water-collecting duty,” Mackey says. “We wiped off the rainwater with towels, squeezed the wet towels into the buckets and emptied the buckets into bathtub. This was our water to flush the toilet until we got running water again.”

Now, Mackey and his family are adjusting to the new normal, which is more isolating for them than before.

“Ninety-nine percent of the houses in our neighborhood are gone,” he says. “When I come home late at night, and if there is no full moon, it is pitch black. People have moved, rented a home somewhere else for a year or so until their home is repaired. One neighbor is already back, although his house was completely flooded. Many are planning to come back — they think this was an event that will only happen once in several decades.”

But Mackey, a man in his early sixties, doesn’t think that Dorian was a fluke, or simply a freak-of-nature incident.

“Dorian has given me a reason to ponder and look into my future,” he says. “The global warming is real. We may be seeing these kinds of occurrences on a more regular basis. I saw a documentary that was talking about our region – the shifting of the planet and water – and asking the question: Should we even be living in these regions? Having [endured] three hurricanes has taught me that repeatedly starting over is not an easy thing to do, especially when you are not a young person.”

Moreover, Mackey has had to adjust his everyday life after Dorian. The electricity has yet to return because the power poles are down. In the meantime, he uses a gas generator to create energy.

“Gas is expensive — it costs $5 per gallon,” he says. “I just wrote a letter to the city to let them know that we are here and not getting any power. Sanitary conditions are also a challenge, because we are short of water. Flies gather up. I have to be swatting flies all the time.”

Looking out of his second-story window now, Mackey sees clear canal water in a beautiful, topical setting – a big change from the musty canal waters that flooded the area not long ago.

“This is a paradise, but a temporary one,” he says. ”Our son and daughter would like us to move up north. But moving isn’t an option for us now. The property values have really dropped after Dorian, and we do not have means to leave. And even though we don’t live in fear of the next big storm – we wouldn’t stay at the house during another storm – it is not worth it. Because it will come. It is inevitable.“

— Kirsi-M. Hayrinen-Beschloss