While the Bahamas is often associated with all-inclusive resorts, cruise ships and turquoise waters, its islands enduring the worst of Hurricane Dorian are a patchwork of smaller coastal settlements that Caribbean scholars say belies the idyllic tourism industry that much of the commonwealth’s economy thrives on.
The islands are populated, though sparsely, by fishermen and manual laborers, as well as migrants from Haiti, who have firsthand experience with natural disasters, including hurricanes and a devastating earthquake in 2010.
The deadly storm Dorian made landfall on Monday on the Abaco Islands in the northern Bahamas and then stalled over the more well-known island of Grand Bahama, which includes Freeport, the second-largest city in the commonwealth.
Thousands of homes were believed to have been damaged or destroyed on the Abaco Islands, where at least five deaths had been reported, Prime Minister Hubert A. Minnis said. The United States Coast Guard was conducting rescues, a spokesman said Monday.
“People do feel like with lesser storms, they have been able to ride it out in the past in the Abaco Islands,” said Amelia Moore, an assistant professor of marine affairs at the University of Rhode Island whose research has focused on the Bahamas.
Ms. Moore, who traveled to the Bahamas during her Fulbright scholarship, said she was concerned because of the magnitude of Dorian.
“It’s a level of storm that people have never really experienced before,” she said of Dorian, which was a Category 5 storm when it hit the Abaco Islands. It was downgraded on Monday to a Category 4.
It has been two decades since a Category 4 hurricane barreled into the northernmost islands in the Bahamas, said Steve Dodge, the author of “Abaco: The History of an Out Island and Its Cays.” A professor emeritus at Millikin University in Decatur, Ill., he said that earlier storm destroyed his home.
“The last really big one was Hurricane Floyd almost 20 years ago,” Mr. Dodge said of that storm.
He has been visiting the Abaco Islands, part of what are known as the Out Islands of the Bahamas, since the early 1970s, when he started teaching a winter-term course there on nautical history and sailing. The islands are home to about 17,000 people.
“There’s a lot of tourism in Abaco,” he said. “It’s changed a lot. It’s grown a lot.”
The Abaco Islands are made up of two islands, 82 cays and 208 rocks, Mr. Dodge said.
The earliest inhabitants of the islands were the Tainos, part of an indigenous group known as the Lucayans that Mr. Dodge said had sought refuge from disease and capture by the Spanish and Christopher Columbus. After the American Revolution, British loyalists from New York resettled on the islands.
Grand Bahama is home to resorts popular with Americans, drawing tourists with cabanas, infinity pools and family-friendly attractions. Children can feed dolphins. Adrenaline seekers can dive with sharks.
While the Ritz-Carlton Destination Club manages a resort on Abaco with a golf course, Mr. Dodge said the Abaco Islands are laid back. He recalled once attending a birthday party for a retired banker from the United States, where wealthy Americans mingled with fisherman from Hope Town, the largest settlement on Elbow Cay, part of the islands.
“You don’t find that kind of thing very often in the United States, and everyone talked to everyone else,” Mr. Dodge said.