Toronto: Devour! Food Film Fest Head Talks Dorian's Devastation
Michael Howell, consultant executive chef at the Green Turtle Club in Abaco, where he holds a Devour! The Beach event, talked to The Hollywood Reporter while at TIFF.
Michael Howell, executive director of Devour! The Food Film Fest, on Monday talked about Hurricane Dorian's aftermath in the Bahamas.
"It's very possible that parts of Abaco will be generationally uninhabitable because of mass displacements of people who have nothing left — no infrastructure, no jobs, no tourism, no roads," Howell told The Hollywood Reporter while attending the Toronto Film Festival.
Besides running the world's largest culinary film festival, Howell is also a consultant executive chef at the Green Turtle Club Resort & Marina on Green Turtle Cay in the Abaco Islands, where he spends around 10 weeks a year. His festival was set to hold its third Devour! The Beach food and film event at the Green Turtle Club in January 2020.
But that's in doubt in the aftermath of Dorian. "Now, with the hurricane, it seems unlikely that the hotel will open, let alone allow us to hold our festival," Howell said. His immediate concern is the community of around 550 people who live on Green Turtle Cay, whom he has known since 1999 when Howell worked as the full-time executive chef at Green Turtle Club for three years, before returning to his native Nova Scotia.
Howell said communicating with the devastated Green Turtle Cay has been near impossible since Dorian rolled through, but he was able to reach last Friday celebrity chef Jose Andres just before his helicopter landed in Marsh Harbor on the island to begin feeding survivors through his non-profit World Central Kitchen.
"I'm letting you know we're flying there now, we will be there with a helicopter at 3:30 in the afternoon and is there any way you can let them know," the film festival head recalled of his crisis call with Andres. Howell immediately rang the only satellite phone he had contact with on Green Turtle Cay and gave word to his employer at the Green Turtle Club that help was on its way.
"The helicopter did show up and brought food for 550 people," Howell said. As a measure of the devastation on the Abaco islands, the Devour! exec recalled in 1999 surviving Hurricanes Dennis and Floyd while at Green Turtle Cay. His family faced storm surges of four to five feet, which allowed their home to escape serious damage.
But the magnitude of the Hurricane Dorian devastation is far greater, with storm surges of up to 12 to 15 feet having laid waste across the Abacos islands. Howell warns that, however much the Bahamas offers paradise on a hot, sunny day, climate change poses an existential threat to tropical islands worldwide over time.
"It takes cataclysmic events for people to realize that these low-lying islands, not only in the Bahamas, but around the world, are in serious danger of going under," he argued. Howell said he will go to Green Turtle Cay next month to lend a hand as a volunteer in an ongoing relief and recovering effort, but doesn't expect to find much on the island from which to help build a future.
"I'll have to stay in the same conditions. There's no infrastructure to support the volunteers. But I won't mind bunking down to help," Howell said.