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|New York Times Sunday - Bahamas|
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|Posted by:||Nov 1st 2004, 11:09:55 am|
|Fig Tree News Team||Note from a Harbour Island homeowner:
Thanks. I've just been at Harbour Island and everything is coming along
well. The beach is fine, with work on the dune erosion proceeding house by
house. Some roofs are having tiles replaced and the gardens are all thinned
out. However palm damage is probably 10% so it should look like normal once
the fronds are grown back in a few months. The hotels are starting to open
up (Pink Sands and Landing just opened). The Marinas are both empty but
should be open by December.
|Posted by:||Oct 31st 2004, 10:45:35 am|
|Fig Tree News Team||October 31, 2004
The Bahamas: Hit or Miss
By DENNY LEE
To see how the Bahamas bowed to the vicissitudes of hurricane season, swing by the straw markets of its rival port cities.
As an armada of floating resorts pulled into Nassau in early October, the Straw Market on old Bay Street brimmed with tourists haggling over souvenir T-shirts and flimsy straw hats, even though Hurricane Frances had upended the market's rickety stalls only a few weeks earlier.
The scene in Freeport, on Grand Bahama, could not have been more different. In fact, there was no scene at all. The Straw Market at the quirky International Bazaar was shuttered behind pastel-colored doors, its wooden booths devoid of any life.
"It's a little lonely here," said Sandra Webb, 37, from Huntersville, N.C., one of the few tourists in Freeport that day. "We went to a couple of shops yesterday, and they were surprised to see us."
Although the whipping winds of Hurricane Frances extended 300 miles in diameter, it sliced through the Bahamas in early September with the precision and ferocity of a tornado, sparing most of the archipelago's 700 islands but wreaking havoc in two places: Grand Bahama Island and the small island cluster called the Abacos.
The eye of the hurricane never grazed Nassau, the touristy heart of the island of New Providence, and by the first weekend of October, its low season, the pulse had largely returned to normal. Some visitors were oblivious that a Category 4 storm had even passed. "What hurricane?" asked Chris Wimer, 25, a student from Dewey Beach, Del., as he polished off a frozen banana cocktail at Seņor Frog's, a dockside bar. "We haven't seen any damage. No uprooted trees, no missing roofs, no nothing."
West of the tourist districts, the 145-mile-an-hour winds did manage to topple cedar trees along Cable Beach and hammer truck-size sinkholes into West Bay Street, the arterial road to the airport. The SuperClubs Breezes, which suffered the most damage of any large resort on New Providence, resealed its roof and welcomed visitors back on Oct. 1. By the next afternoon, half of its 400 rooms were occupied, as were its 300 blue beach chairs set up along sugar-white sand and turquoise surf.
Across the harbor on Paradise Island, the Las Vegas-style Atlantis resort was its usual frenzy of screaming kids, dewy-eyed honeymooners and tipsy gamblers. Next door, at the exclusive One & Only Ocean Club, not a blade of grass seemed out of place. The only whirlwind to hit was the social kind, with boldface guests mingling and marveling at the superficial damage.
"It looks like the palm trees went to the army and got little crew cuts," said Thom Filicia, the interior designer from "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy," who had flown in for a wedding that everyone seemed to know about. (The bride was Susan Magrino, Martha Stewart's publicist and friend, and her bouquet was occupying much of Ms. Stewart's time in her final days of freedom.)
Ordering lunch at the Dune, a restaurant at the Ocean Club that claims a menu conceptualized by Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Mr. Filicia had this assessment of the hurricane aftermath: "I think they lucked out."
Few would say that about Grand Bahama, 45 minutes away from Nassau by plane, where the resort industry is newer - and some say scrappier. Hurricane Frances lingered over Grand Bahama for two days, flattening homes, snapping thick trees and peeling off rooftops. Three weeks later, in late September, Hurricane Jeanne essentially finished what Frances had started there, flooding roads and pulling down utility poles that crews had just straightened.
Tourist officials played down the devastation, saying, among other things, that the new Grand Bahama International Airport in Freeport was "fully operational." But an early October visit suggested an airport on life support. Telephone lines were down, computers were off-line (which meant that some tickets had to be handwritten), and flights were limited to daylight hours because the navigation system required for instrument landings had been washed away. Next door, the airport's old pink terminal had been submerged; it has been deemed not worth saving.
Not that tourists were battering down the terminal gates. A month after Hurricane Frances, the island was still digging out. No one was swimming with the dolphins at the Underwater Explorers Society, roads were littered with uprooted mahogany trees and abandoned cars, and one of the few resorts to reopen - the Pelican Bay Suites at Port Lucaya - looked more like a construction zone, with scaffolding and exposed roofs, than like one of the island's latest forays into the upscale market.
"Everything stopped," said Shantel Robinson, 26, folding and refolding T-shirts at Booth 42 in the Lucaya Marketplace. "I sold two items today. We need help."
Most resorts on Grand Bahama are closed at least until December. The Westin and Sheraton at Our Lucaya, a 1,260-room minicity on 372 acres, recalled an abandoned Hollywood set. Pools were drained, the landscaping looked singed, and hallways echoed with the humming of dehumidifiers. The Sheraton reopened on Oct. 14, but most of the waterlogged Westin section, where air ducts were yanked out like spaghetti by 150-m.p.h. winds, is not scheduled to accept guests until Dec. 17.
Some tourist hotels are teetering on the brink. The Royal Oasis Golf Resort and Casino in Freeport, the island's aging grande dame, retracted its opening date. The hurricanes tore open a new skylight in the Crowne Plaza Tower and reduced the Holiday Inn to a disaster area.
Elsewhere on the island, most residents were without power, telephone service and, in some places, drinking water in early October, prompting the State Department to issue a travel alert, good until Nov. 19, discouraging Americans from visiting the Bahamas. The alert also reinforced the flawed perception that all of the Bahamas are damaged goods. According to a survey last month by the Orlando-based travel marketing firm of Yesawich, Pepperdine, Brown & Russell, nearly 25 percent of leisure travelers polled said they were "less likely" to visit the Bahamas later this year as a result of the hurricanes.
For the tourism sector, which accounts for 70 percent of the Bahamian economy, the visitor fallout may prove worse than the storm. The biggest concern, more than the straightforward task of rebuilding, is luring visitors back.
But resort operators are upbeat. A few are even whispering that the loss of outmoded hotels may help Grand Bahama reposition itself as a more luxurious vacation spot. "When this reopens, it will be more gorgeous than before," said Harris Chan, the general manager of Our Lucaya, which is using an insurance payout to help revamp several wings. "It's survival of the fittest."
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