Hurricane Frances was a category 4 hurricane when it struck the islands of the Bahamas on 2 September 2004, with maximum sustained winds of 140 miles per hour, heavy rain and a storm surge up to 20 feet. Although the damage was significant in the southern and central islands of the Bahamas, the northern Bahamas received the brunt of the hurricane. Frances affected all the inhabited islands of the Bahamas; the most affected islands were San Salvador, Cat Island, Eleuthra, Abaco, Grand Bahama (the second most populated island) and parts of New Providence, the most populated island. It is important to note that the most vulnerable population groups live on the most affected islands.
Preliminary damage assessment
To date, two lives were lost and one person is missing. In New Providence, the island on which the capital, Nassau, is located, an 18-year-old male was electrocuted; in Grand Bahama, an adult male drowned. An elderly person is still unaccounted for in Grand Bahama.
More than 1,500 persons are reported in shelters. Approximately 88,000 persons are at risk of vector and water borne diseases due to environmental changes, including water contamination and disruption of environmental health services.
The Bahamas has two public hospitals that provide acute care for a population of 303,611 persons scattered among 29 inhabited islands—a reality that poses serious challenges when it comes to transporting patients from other islands to New Providence or Grand Bahama. The Princess Margaret Hospital in Nassau, a 400-bed hospital and the only hospital providing tertiary care, had to relocate patients due to significant damage to its infrastructure. The Rand Memorial Hospital in Grand Bahama has partially evacuated due to infrastructure damage and flooding. An electricity pole and a transformer fell through the roof of the hospital making most of it unusable.
The situation is critical, given that Hurricane Ivan is now in the Caribbean and could threaten the Bahamas. Hospital structures are now more vulnerable than ever to subsequent storms, due to wear and tear from Frances—the potential exists for a collapse even with lower wind speeds or torrential rains.
The Bahamas has a network of 115 clinics strategically located throughout the islands to provide primary level healthcare. Several clinics were affected and the roof of one clinic in Abaco collapsed. The provision of primary level health care has been significantly compromised.