Florida braces for ominous Hurricane Dorian
South Florida ports in Miami and Fort Lauderdale reopened Tuesday, allowing cruise ships whose itineraries were disrupted by Hurricane Dorian to return.
Meanwhile, Disney Cruise Line defended its decision to leave staff on the private Bahamian island it uses as a day stop for passengers.
Disney was among several Florida-based cruise companies that faced a decision as Dorian headed last week for the Bahamas: to evacuate staff on their private islands or leave them to weather the storm.
On Wednesday, Aug. 28, the National Hurricane Center estimated that a major hurricane would impact an area including the private islands belonging to Royal Caribbean International, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, Ltd., MSC Cruises and Disney Cruise Line by 8 a.m. on Sunday, Sept. 1. As Dorian got closer on Aug. 30, the NHC issued a hurricane watch followed by a hurricane warning for the area and warned of “a life-threatening storm surge” estimated at 10 to 15 feet.
Royal Caribbean International evacuated 400 staff members from its island, CocoCay, on Aug. 28 to a Nassau hotel or to their homes, according to a spokesperson. On Aug. 30, MSC Cruises evacuated 600 construction workers from its soon-to-open Ocean Cay island, sending them to Nassau or Miami. Dorian struck the Bahamas on Sunday, Sept. 1.
Norwegian Cruise Line did not respond to two emails and two calls for comment Tuesday about whether the company evacuated its staff from Great Stirrup Cay.
Disney Cruise Line decided to leave its staff on its island, Castaway Cay, to ride out the storm in the company’s hurricane shelter. One hundred and two staff members stayed in the concrete shelter, which the company said is 20 feet above sea level and designed to withstand a Category 5 hurricane. All crew members remained safe during the storm and the company said no one was injured.
“Having operated Castaway Cay for more than 20 years, we have extensive experience managing situations like this, with the care and safety of our Crew driving every decision we make,” wrote Kim Prunty, a spokesperson for Disney Cruise Line, via email. “The forecast leading up to this storm showed that Castaway Cay, while in the cone of uncertainty, was most likely to experience tropical storm conditions and that is what occurred.”
When Dorian struck, Castaway Cay was the cruise line island located closest to the center of the storm. The Category 5 hurricane hovered over nearby Grand Bahama and the Abaco islands for two days, pummeling them with 165 mph winds and creating storm surges as high as 23 feet. As the hurricane moved north Tuesday, large swaths of the islands remained under water, and the true death count is still unknown. Dorian was the most powerful hurricane in recorded history to hit the Northwest Bahamas.
Disney defended its decision to leave staff on the island Tuesday saying the hurricane shelter on its island is made of thick concrete and located inland from the coast. The company said damage to the island from Hurricane Dorian is minimal, requiring minor repairs to landscaping and a roof on one of its buildings. The company did not say exactly when the island will reopen.
Royal Caribbean and MSC Cruises said damage to their islands seems minor, based on webcam footage. Both companies plan to make in-person assessments later in the week.
Although Carnival Corporation’s private island, Half Moon Cay, in the Bahamas was located outside of the National Hurricane Center’s cone of uncertainty, Carnival evacuated its staff from the island prior to the storm, Carnival spokesperson Roger Frizzell said. The island suffered beach erosion, but no structural damage.
Royal Caribbean and Disney cruise lines each have pledged to donate $1 million to relief efforts for the Bahamas.