Cedarville student has special interest in Irma

CEDARVILLE — Just a few months away from graduating with a degree in nursing, Rebekah Cates has myriad thoughts going through her head.

But instead of thinking about a first job, a graduation party and final exams, the Cedarville University senior is concentrating more on winds, waves and potential widespread devastation.

Like most of her family, Cates is a native of Nassau in The Bahamas, whose islands were firmly locked in the target area of Hurricane Irma, a Category 5 storm believed to be the strongest ever to hit the Atlantic. The storm has already wreaked havoc in other parts of the Caribbean with 185 mile per hour winds, and gusts faster than a race car.

“It’s very hard to concentrate,” Cates said. “I can’t fathom in my mind what 225 mile per hour gusts would look like on an island I’m from. How do you even prepare for something like that. The surge, I’m trying to picture it, but I can’t picture it.”

Cates really doesn’t have to because via television and social media she has already seen the damage to places like Barbuda and St. Marteen. Irma is packing a punch.

“It scares me to death,” Cates admitted. “I’ve felt my heart literally drop to my feet while I’m watching these videos. I fear mostly for the central and southeastern Bahamas. They’re already recovering from last year’s hurricane (Matthew). They have fewer resources than Nassau. It induces a sense of helplessness. It’s easy to feel isolated.”

Most of her extended family lives on Spanish Wells, a small island directly in the projected path. Family members were evacuated to Nassau, while Cates’ parents, Richard and Joan were set to fly out of Nassau to Dayton Thursday evening. Spanish Wells is two miles long and a half-mile wide, smaller than Cedarville University.

“I feel it could be wiped off the map with one stroke,” Cates said. “It’s a fear of the unknown. We’ve never seen a hurricane like this before. We’ve never experienced the strongest hurricane in the Atlantic basin before. We’re hoping for the best.”

That’s about all Cates can do — Hope and pray. If she could, she said she would jump on the next plan and “be there and do something for the Bahamian people. That’s my home.”

But she knows that’s not realistic, or safe.

“It’s a matter of having committed it to God,” Cates said. “Nothing do do but pray. At this point I can honestly say I’m doing everything I can.”

The current forecast had Irma reaching the southeastern islands as early as Thursday night but most likely Friday and Saturday. Then comes the clean up — physical and financial.

Tourism is accounts for more than 60 percent of The Bahamas gross domestic product, and provides jobs for more than half the country’s workforce. If resorts are damaged and the beaches erode, the islands stand to lose millions of visitors. The fishing industry — in which most of Cates’ extended family participates — is huge there. Lobster traps could be destroyed and moved by the surge.

“It’s not going to be a quick process,” Cates said. “People are still rebuilding from (Matthew). The Bahamian people are going to have to come together, which is one of the strengths. We’re able to reach out to each other.”

Through it all, Cates has maintained a rather calm demeanor, even managing to giggle a few times. But that’s how she copes.

“I don’t wear my emotions on my sleeve,” she said. “I don’t want to cry … in front of people. Have I felt like it? Yeah. My stomach is in knots. I felt nauseous all day.”

Understandable. As she said, “That’s my home.”

And she is praying it will still be there after Irma passes.

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By Scott Halasz


Contact Scott Halasz at 937-502-4507.