FIELD EVALUATION OF HURRICANE DAMAGE TO THE WATER RESOURCES, TOURISM INFRASTRUCTURE, AND EMERGENCY RESPONSE OF SAN SALVADOR ISLAND, BAHAMAS
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This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. CMS-9632458. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.
Club Med is dependent upon a public well field to pump groundwater for freshwater supply. Since the construction of the Club Med resort, the pumping rate of the public well field has increased 382%, and upwelling of saltwater into the fresh water lens has caused a 51% increase in salinity of well water (Erdman et al., 1997). To make the well water potable, Club Med passes the groundwater through a desalinization plant. Without the infrastructure to pump and desalinize the groundwater from the fresh water lens, the Club Med resort would not be able to supply water to guests. The passage of a hurricane over or near the island has the potential to damage or destroy the public well fields and desalinization facilities. To date a hurricane has not passed over the island and damaged the facilities. Thus, the ability of the San Salvador community to respond to hurricane hazards and damage to water resource infrastructure has yet to be measured, and the impact of such damage to tourism infrastructure has yet to be determined. The purpose of this study is to evaluate the damage to water resources and tourism infrastructure on San Salvador from Hurricane Floyd.
The eye of Hurricane Floyd passed 24 km north of San Salvador at approximately 11:30 pm EST on the evening of September 14, 1999, placing the island well within the region of reported 250 kmph winds. A team of researchers surveyed Hurricane Floyd damage September 17-21, 1999 and December 28,1999-January 7, 2000 to assess the damage to the water resources and tourism infrastructure of San Salvador. Given the size and intensity of Hurricane Floyd, the research team was surprised by the lack of significant damage. The only occurrences of building structure failure occurred on the west coast of the island and were created by storm surge. Wind speed estimates based upon damage were 130-145 kph, well below the reported wind speeds of 250 kph. Minimal damage occurred to water resource facilities available to resort tourism. Only temporary damage was sustained at the public well fields, and the Club Med desalinization system was reported to be undamaged. However, the water supply facilities at the Bahamian Field Station (BFS) were damaged, creating diminished capacity for ecotourism and island residents. Evaluation of hurricane recovery in December indicates close to full recovery of water resource and tourism infrastructure. The greatest threat to continued growth of tourism created by Hurricane Floyd is the potential replacement of water storage tanks at the BFS, and fewer available guestrooms at the Riding Rock Inn. Thus, damage caused by Hurricane Floyd to water resource and tourism infrastructure on San Salvador appears to be moderate to minimal with greatest impact upon recreational tourism and ecotourism.
Photo and video documentation was used in a repeat photo analysis. Photos taken by the principal investigator over the past three years were compared to the post-hurricane photos to determine extent of damage. The comparison of the immediate post-impact photos and December 1999 photos will be used to assess progress of rebuilding efforts. For damage assessments, the Saffir-Simpson Scale of Hurricane Intensity was used to estimate maximum hurricane wind speeds.
Damage to the BFS freshwater system was more serious. The freshwater system is composed of a concrete catchment from which water is pumped to a raw water tank for storage and settling of solids. From this tank, water is pumped through a filtration system and then stored in one of two filtered water storage tanks. The filtered water is then pumped from the filtered tanks to the BFS or made available to island residents. Tom Goossen (1999), BFS facilities manager, reports that leaks developed in a all three tanks due to flexing of side walls during hurricane winds. The leaks are detectable once the tanks are 1/2 to 2/3 full of water. In addition, a door was blown off of the pump house and struck and fractured the main water line. A full tank of filtered freshwater was lost through the pipe fractures. Caulk and welds were required to repair leaks, and excavation and replacement of the pipe was required to re-establish the water main line. Electricity was unavailable for one week after Hurricane Floyd, and once it was restored not all three phases of power were available. The filtration system pumps require three-phase power and were thus unable to filter water during this time period. Due to the loss of filtered water from one storage tank and the loss of power to the filtration system, the BFS was forced to conserve freshwater remaining in the tanks. The conservation efforts included not making freshwater available to island residents and restricting water available to BFS guests.
The BFS experienced no structural damage to its buildings. However, trees were downed and vegetation stripped throughout the grounds, windows were blown out in many buildings, screens were torn, fences damaged, walls were pitted due to sand and gravel blown against buildings, and flashing along roofs was bent and torn (Figure 1). Standing water was present in several buildings that lost windows. All perishable food items were lost due to the loss of electricity and refrigeration after Hurricane Floyd. As described in the earlier section, a pipe in the freshwater supply system was fractured and two-thirds of the freshwater in one of two storage tanks was lost. Overall, Tom Goossen, BFS facilities manager, believed the damage was moderate and repairs should be completed in several months. Researchers estimate 80-90% of the BFS buildings received damage.
The Club Med Resort had less damage than the BFS. The most extensive form of damage to the Club Med Resort was the loss of shingles from roofs (Figure 2). Much of the vegetation on the grounds was down or stripped of leaves (Figure 2). No structural damage was reported for any building at the resort. Some windows were blown out of buildings and water damage was evident in the central club/entertainment house. Chain-link fences surrounding the tennis courts were blown over and severely damaged (Figure 3). Much sand was washed up over the berm of the beach and onto interior grounds, burying grass and other vegetation (Figure 3). Evidence of flooding was present on grass fields near beaches. No damage to the resort's desalinization plant was reported. However, the plant was not made available for inspection by the researchers. Researchers estimate 50-65% of the buildings on the resort grounds experienced damage.
The Riding Rock Inn sustained the most severe damage of the three tourist facilities on San Salvador. The severity of the damage was due to the Inn's location along a westward-facing beach. Storm surge along this beach eroded the foundation of the bar and restaurant building, hotel building, and several cabins (Figure 4). Beyond foundation damage, the porch attached to the restaurant and bar lost its roof and supports, making it unstable and unusable. Part of the roof of the bar/restaurant was removed during the hurricane, and extensive water damage was evident, including standing water in the building (Figure 5). Extensive water damage was also evident in guestrooms. A tree fell along the beach, crushing two cabins (Figure 5). The researchers estimated that 100% of the buildings on the Riding Rock Inn grounds experienced significant damage.
Beyond the three major tourism facilities, researchers also surveyed damage to other tourist attractions on San Salvador, including historical sites, beaches, coral reefs, cave systems, interior hiking trails, and Cockburn Town attractions. Historical sites, particularly Christopher Columbus monuments, received minimal damage. Paint was removed from several monuments by sand carried in the wind. Overall, the most significant damage to the monuments was to monument grounds. The landscaping of monument grounds was significantly altered, with felled vegetation and sand covering grass. During inspection of beaches, the researchers found significant alteration of beach appearance as compared to previous visits in 1997-1999. The most common alteration of beaches and the adjoining coast was the transport of sand above the berm, burying vegetation adjacent to the beach. Due to the removal of debris at or above beach berms and transport of sand inland beyond the berm, it appears the beaches are wider in many locations.
Choppy conditions and poor visibility along coral reefs made inspection difficult, but it appeared that shallow reefs sustained minimal damage. Some locations experienced overwash of sand onto reefs, but widespread physical damage to coral was not observed. Access to the coral reefs and several historical monuments was inhibited due to damage to the Queen's Highway on the western side of the island (Figure 6). The highway was reduced to one lane, and lost sea walls to storm surge along Fernandez Bay. Inspection of hiking trails and cave systems revealed little damage to the interior of the island. Little vegetation was blown down along trails, and locations farthest inland appeared undisturbed. Formations inside cave systems were in good condition, with no evidence of major flooding events.
Cockburn Town attractions sustained substantial damage. In particular, the town square, which houses a small straw market, was covered by debris, and waves created significant structural damage to square buildings and structures. The local museum and church sustained roof damage (Figure 6).
The BFS is operating at maximum capacity and repair of buildings is near completion. Perhaps the greatest damage of Hurricane Floyd to the BFS is the delay of improvements to facilities. Renovation of BFS facilities was scheduled during the fall of 1999. However, since the BFS had to focus on Hurricane Floyd recovery, renovations and improvements were not completed, and at this date it is unknown when the renovations will be completed.
The two "hotel" buildings of the Riding Rock Inn were operating at full capcaity during evaluation, but none of the inn's six cabins were available for guests. The dining room/bar, and "hotel" buildings were completely repaired, including new coats of paint, new doors, and new storm windows (Figure 8). The porch had a new roof and supports. Conflicting reports were given regarding the future of the cabins. One worker stated the cabins would be demolished, while another stated the cabins might be renovated. At the Riding Rock Inn Marina, operations were back to normal, except only one of the six rental slips was operational.
The Queen's Highway had been repaired, allowing full access to coral reefs and historical monuments. The grounds of historical monuments still required removal of storm debris. Debris and structural damage still existed at the Cockburn Town public square. However, some repairs had been made allowing for the continuation of the straw market and operation of souvenir stands. The local museum still required roof repairs.
One aspect of the damage survey that surprised the research team was the minimal damage to the island, given the size and intensity of Hurricane Floyd. Many islanders commented that Hurricane Lili, despite being a smaller storm with weaker winds, caused more damage than Hurricane Floyd. Hurricane Lili was a category 3 hurricane (winds 165-185 kph) that approached the island from the southwest on October 19, 1996. If the islanders' assessment of damage caused by Hurricane Lili is correct, it suggests that the size and intensity of the hurricane is not of greatest importance to damage on San Salvador, rather the track of the hurricane may be the key determinant. The northeast quadrant of a hurricane produces the greatest wind speeds and storm surge (Aguado and Burt, 1999). As Hurricane Lili passed over San Salvador, the island was exposed to the northeastern quadrant of the storm. As Hurricane Floyd passed over San Salvador, the island was exposed to the southwestern quadrant of the storm. The quadrant of the storms may explain the relatively low level of damage from Floyd and the greater amount of damage from Lili. Thus, it is important for officials on San Salvador and the rest of the Bahamas to recognize the path of a hurricane and adjust emergency preparedness and response activities.
Carew, J.L., and Mylroie, J.E., 1997. "Geology of the Bahamas." In Vacher, H.L., and Quinn, T.M., eds., "Geology and Hydrogeology of Carbonate Islands." Developments in Sedimentology 54: 91-139.
Erdman, J.S., Key, M.M., Jr., and Davis, R.L., 1997. "Hydrogeology of the Cockburn Town Aquifer, San Salvador Island, Bahamas, and the Change in Water Quality Resulting from the Development of a Resort Community." In Carew, J.L., ed., Proceedings of the 8th Symposium on the Geology of the Bahamas and Other Carbonate Regions, May 30-June 3, 1996, pp. 47-58. San Salvador, Bahamas: Bahamian Field Station.
Goossen, T., 1999. September 1999, Hurricane Floyd, Damage Report and Assessment: Views, Observations, and Comments. San Salvador, Bahamas: Bahamian Field Station.
Shaklee, R., 1994. In Columbus's Footsteps: Geography of San Salvador Island, the Bahamas. San Salvador, Bahamas: Bahamian Field Station.
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