This first-person article is written by Tara Pyfrom, who lives in New Brunswick. For more information on CBC’s First Person Stories, please see frequently asked questions.
Either you are lucky or you are unlucky. When you live by the ocean, by birth or by choice, you live with the consequences of annual hurricanes. As someone in the first category, being born by the water does not make the reality of our planet’s warming any easier to bear.
For six months each year, between June 1 and November 30, my family and I monitor the ocean and the weather forecast. We know the names of meteorologists as if they were our learned friends around a table. Words like millibars, eyewall, and wind shear are just as much a part of our vocabulary as school, weekends, and dinnertime. Memories of Andrew, Katrina, Sandy, Floyd, Frances, Jeanne and Matthew leave goosebumps on our necks and racing heartbeats in our chests.
We look forward to these storms escalating from infancy to toddlerhood to angry teenagers. We know that the appearance of an empty hole in the center of the infrared image means that an adult psychopath will soon be determined to destroy. We know there is no way to avoid the hell that is coming. It may feel like an apocalyptic day, and we have no control over where and when.
Until 2019, my family and I lived in Freeport, Grand Bahama, the northernmost island in the Bahamas.
We had already successfully weathered more hurricanes than we could name, but that year, Hurricane Dorian hits the Abaco and Grand Bahama Islands before move to nova scotia. Dorian has pushed a wall of water onto the island so monumental that mere adjectives are not enough to describe it. Ultimately, areas of Grand Bahama saw over seven meters of storm surge and sustained wind of 295 km/h with wind gusts of more than 350 km/h. For reference, two-story houses are about six meters high and an EF-5 tornado (the strongest classification of a tornado) has winds of over 320 km/h.
With the water rising and no way to escape, my wife, our six-year-old daughter and I, and our five dogs, swam inside our home as it quickly filled like a fishbowl. to fish.
Eventually, we were forced to retreat to our attic crawl space. Drenched and running on adrenaline, I was terrified of drowning there, trapped in a watery grave above our house. Miraculously, the ocean did not follow us there. Instead, we were trapped by the storm surge in our attic for 24 hours. It was as if we were waiting for death, and I repeated to myself, “Please let the roof hold.”
Our home in the Bahamas was built to withstand the worst a hurricane can throw at it. The roof held, saving our lives in the process. We survived, but few valuable things remained after Dorian. During the storm, the interior of the house experienced a sea water washing machine. Very little was salvageable. Our things were broken or covered in gray mud and sewage. Technical assessments determined that the house was no longer structurally sound and could not be repaired.
The island’s drinking water source was also contaminated by seawater that entered the groundwater table. Many utilities on the island had to be rebuilt or replaced.
In the aftermath, my family and I evacuated to Florida.
We gave up living by the water after Dorian, feeling we didn’t have what it took emotionally to rebuild our home, knowing that another storm might come and take it all away again. Instead, we chose to permanently immigrate to Canada immediately after Dorian in 2019, fleeing from the monsters that seem to grow, in size and frequency, with each season.
But we couldn’t bring ourselves to leave the ocean completely behind us, so we settled in Atlantic Canada. After surviving a Category 5 hurricane in a developing country, dealing with weaker Category 1 or 2 storms in Canada seems more manageable. My wife and I couldn’t imagine living our lives in the middle of a country where the ocean was only accessible by a long flight. We are ocean people by nature and genetics. We grew up with memories and experiences that made us who we are because of being close to the ocean. It is too important to who we are as people, both individually and as a family, ever to be overlooked in our daily lives.
But these same feelings of fear come up every year. As I watched the news reports on Ian, there were images of people floating inside their flooded homes during the storm. My gut reaction was, “You were lucky. At least the water didn’t reach your ceiling.” Although we had no damage to our house during Fiona, we lost power for 18 hours. This elicited considerable pent-up trauma and anxiety.
The Bahamas is rebuilding after these monster storms, but with each direct hit, rebuilding becomes slower and more costly. Florida is rebuilding. Reconstruction in Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. It’s not about whether another storm like Fiona, Ian or Dorian will hit again; that’s when. Global warming and its effects on the climate are real; hurricanes like Dorian get stronger because of it.
The UN estimates that up to 40% of the world’s population lives less than 100 kilometers from the coast. Will we be personally affected by a major hurricane while living in Atlantic Canada? Most likely. My wife and I know we haven’t completely escaped them, but we think we’re in a more stable position with Canada as our home now. With global warming, the Bahamas and other low-lying places will always be at greater risk of superstorms than much larger mountainous countries like Canada. So, in a way, I feel safer.
Either way, we know very well that eventually climate change will be within everyone’s reach on Earth.
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