world news Caribbean, Struggling in the Pandemic, Braces for Hurricane Season

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MEXICO CITY — Houses with no roofs. Neighborhoods lacking electricity. Residents who fled still in exile.

Ten months after Hurricane Dorian pulverized the northern Bahamas, those islands are still struggling to recover, even as this year’s hurricane season begins. But rebuilding, always a slow process, has been slowed even further this year by a disaster of another sort: the coronavirus pandemic.

“That brought rebuilding efforts to a complete halt,” said Stafford Symonette, an evangelical pastor whose house on Great Abaco Island was severely damaged during the hurricane — and remains that way.

“You still have a lot of people in tents and temporary shelters,” he said.

The Bahamas — like other hurricane-prone countries in the Caribbean and North Atlantic — find themselves at the dramatic convergence of a devastating pandemic and an Atlantic hurricane season that is expected to be more active than normal.

The pandemic has also presented a range of public health challenges for governments and relief groups preparing for hurricanes, including the need to ensure adequate social distancing during evacuations and in shelters, and a sufficient supply of personal protective gear for emergency workers and evacuees.

Health officials are also trying to stockpile medicine and other supplies and prepare for possible coronavirus outbreaks among evacuees.

“Without a doubt, once we have a natural hazard such as a hurricane, there will be a greater rate of infection, particularly with respect to Covid-19, among other diseases that could arise,” Dr. Laura-Lee Boodram, an official with the Caribbean Public Health Agency, warned during a recent panel discussion organized by the Caribbean Tourism Organization.

The Bahamas has been at a particular disadvantage in its efforts to get out ahead of this year’s hurricane threat.

The coronavirus pandemic swept into the region only a few months after Dorian, one of the most powerful Atlantic hurricanes on record, made landfall on Sept. 1, 2019, killing scores of people in the Abaco Islands and Grand Bahama Island, destroying thousands of structures and causing billions of dollars in damage.

Recovery efforts were fully underway by the time the country recorded its first coronavirus case on March 16. But less than two weeks later, with the number of infections mounting, the government had closed the nation’s borders and had begun imposing a series of restrictions on movement, including curfews, 24-hour lockdowns and a ban on travel between the archipelago’s islands.

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