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Hurricane Dorian has destroyed entire communities in Abaco and Grand Bahama. ReEarth’s Sam Duncombe says if the US—and Bahamian—governments don’t take climate action, storms will get even deadlier

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DHARNA NOOR: It’s The Real News. I’m Dharna Noor.

Hurricane Dorian has left miles of The Bahamas covered in the wreckage of pulverized homes, beached boats, and floodwaters. Two more deaths were confirmed on Tuesday night, which brings the death toll up to seven. And officials expect that number to rise. Rescuers are still searching for survivors. Almost half of the homes on the islands of Grand Bahama and Abaco have been severely damaged. 60,000 people are still without food or drinking water. Bahamas Prime Minister Hubert Minnis has called it a “historic crisis,” but he says he’s confident the nation can recover from the catastrophe.

HUBERT MINNIS: Just in case you don’t know, Bahamians, especially Abaconians, are very resilient. They’ve gone through this before and I’ve seen them rebuild themselves in a matter of time.

DHARNA NOOR: The hurricane is now making its way up Florida’s coast. More than a million US residents have been told to evacuate.

Now joining me to talk about this is Sam Duncombe, who is a Co-Founder and Executive Director of The Bahamas-based environmental watchdog, reEarth. Thank you so much for being here.

SAM DUNCOMBE: Thank you for having me.

DHARNA NOOR: Now, I know that you’re joining us from The Bahamas capital in Nassau. Talk about the damage that the hurricane has already done. I mean, I understand that entire communities got swept away in a couple of islands. You’re seeing pretty extreme weather where you are, but your area hasn’t seen the worst of it. Talk about what you’re seeing. And also just, could you confirm for us that you’re safe? Are your loved ones safe? Are you doing okay?

SAM DUNCOMBE: We in Nassau, for the most part, are safe. There has been extensive flooding in some areas in Nassau, so those communities are being impacted by floodwaters, or power has been out in certain areas. But the real problems and the real devastation have happened in Abaco and Grand Bahama. It’s heartbreaking to see the level of devastation that has happened there. We’re trying to stay in touch as much as possible with friends and family that are in those islands. And there’s so many people still looking for loved ones in those islands, and it’s really just heartbreaking to watch this unfold.

And it’s extensive damage, and the time it’s going to take to rebuild, there are thousands of people that are without water, without food. And help is coming, so we’re – I’m actually overwhelmed. There are people in The Bahamas, people all over the United States, especially in South Florida, are putting packages together to send to us. I mean, it’s very humbling to be watching that, the amount of care and love that is pouring in.

DHARNA NOOR: Yeah, absolutely. It’s been so devastating to see all this footage, especially the aerial footage that just shows just the ridiculous extent of all of this damage. I’m curious to hear your response also to the Bahamian Prime Minister. Of course, as he said, this is not the first natural disaster that The Bahamas have seen, but I understand that this is the strongest hurricane to ever hit the country.

SAM DUNCOMBE: It is the strongest hurricane to hit the country. And the thing is, is that while we have had other hurricanes, Abaco and Grand Bahama have two of the most populated … are two of the most populated islands, so the amount of devastation is that much more. They’re saying 60% of homes in Marsh Harbor are gone. I’ve been talking with people in Grand Bahama who had to leave their homes because they were inundated with water. We’re talking about thousands and thousands of people that have been affected in two of the most populated islands in the country. So it’s devastation on a whole different scale because so many people need help. Because the island has been so damaged in Marsh Harbor and Grand Bahama, it’s difficult to—They’re trying to figure out where to land planes. They’re bringing in supplies by boat.

And on the issue of climate change, the reality is that we as a country have not done nearly enough to go with other island nations to the UN and really demand that we do something about the emissions. We need to look at what we’re eating in terms of meat consumption, because we know that animal agriculture is tied into global warming as well.

DHARNA NOOR: Absolutely.

SAM DUNCOMBE: As an island that has 315 days or more of sunshine, nine average hours of sun a day, we are still primarily powered by fossil fuels. We have just brought in nine generators that are going to run on fossil fuels, and that power plant is now going to be accepting LNG in a few years. That’s not the way to go. You have to wonder, when we’re reading the news about climate change, about the disasters that are ongoing all over the world, the Amazon’s on fire, the Siberian forest is on fire, Alaska is on fire, all the ice has melted. I mean, how many more signs do we need? Even for the people who say that climate change is not man-made, wouldn’t it just make sense to pull back on using so many fossil fuels and get on a different track? Because countries like mine are going to be the ones that suffer the hardest and the most initially, but it’s not only going to be limited to island nations.

DHARNA NOOR: Sam, your internet connection there in Nassau is a bit shaky, so we’ll have to wrap up this interview. But before we let you go, I’d love to just ask you what you expect from folks here in the United States and other governments and industries to really ensure that The Bahamas have a just recovery. I mean, we’re speaking here just a few hours before all of the Democratic presidential candidates will be discussing their plans for climate change on a long town hall on CNN. In just a couple of weeks, the UN will be holding their Climate Action Summit. So talk about what you expect from folks, to really hold governments and industry accountable and ensure that there is a just recovery there in The Bahamas.

SAM DUNCOMBE: We are seeing a lot of help come through, but I think that what happens is there’s a lot of help that comes through in the first couple of weeks. And then, over time, those communities end up getting forgotten. We need a long-term plan in terms of helping Grand Bahama and Abaco recover. I don’t know what that plan is. I’m only hearing what you’re hearing in terms of what the Prime Minister is saying, but we do need long-term recovery plans.

And in terms of what nations can do, the reality is that we need to address the issue of climate change. We need to stop burning fossil fuels. We need to look at what we’re eating. We know that animal agriculture has a big impact on climate change. These are things individuals can do. And I hope that in the middle of all this disaster, we actually start to make changes that are going to help alleviate these problems because how many more category-five hurricanes can The Bahamas withstand? That was one giant tornado that sat on top of Grand Bahama and obliterated it. The storm surge actually engulfed most of the island. I mean, that’s mind-blowing.


SAM DUNCOMBE: Island nations really need to come together and start talking seriously about, what are we going to do about this crisis? I mean, we are talking about several thousand people just in Grand Bahama and Abaco who are left with nothing. Where are those people going to go? President Trump offered us prayers and in the same breath, he wants to allow oil drilling. Why are you giving us prayers? You’re part of the problem.


SAM DUNCOMBE: The United States does not function in a vacuum. We don’t want prayer. We want action.

DHARNA NOOR: We’ll have to leave it there, Sam, but thank you so much for being here with us. Our hearts are going out to all of you in The Bahamas. And I know that you have some links that you wanted to suggest that we post if people are interested in donating. So thank you for being here.

SAM DUNCOMBE: Thank you very much. I really appreciate it.

DHARNA NOOR: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

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Dharna Noor is a staff writer at Earther, Gizmodo's climate vertical.