PM acknowledges The Bahamas “cannot face this tragedy alone”
NASSAU, BAHAMAS — As he pledged to rebuild lives and remake Abaco and Grand Bahama even stronger after those islands were struck by one of the “greatest tragedies in our history”, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis last night discouraged criticisms of those who he said continue to try their best each day and said now is the time for national action.
“Instead of criticizing those who are trying their best, day after day, in government, charities, churches and volunteer efforts, let us all join hands and hearts to focus on the needs of those who are suffering,” Minnis said in a national address last night.
“Those whose lives are devastated, need hope, love, and generosity, not needless negativity. How can you help? Volunteer at a reputable charity. Make a donation. Take in those in need. This is a time for national action by all Bahamians of goodwill.”
Dorian ravaged Abaco and Grand Bahama for over 68 hours between September 1 and September 3. Thousands have been displaced. At least 50 people have been confirmed dead — 42 in Abaco and eight in Grand Bahama — and the figure is expected to rise significantly, a point the prime minister repeated last night.
“There are many deaths and many still missing,” Minnis said. “Many are grieving the loss of their loves ones. Many are in despair, wondering if their loved ones are still alive.”
He continued, “The grief we will bear as a country, begins with the families, who have lost loved ones. To those who have lost loved ones, I know there is absolutely nothing we can say that will lessen your pain and your loss. Our sympathies, go out to the families of each person who died. Let us pray for them during this time of grief. We offer you our shoulders to cry on, our prayers of comfort, and our promise that your loved ones will never be forgotten.”
The prime minister said the government will continue to be transparent and responsible in the process of confirming the dead; by first prioritizing notifying families and giving them help needed to grieve. He said efforts will also be ramped up to collect those who lost their lives in the catastrophic storm.
Minnis, who met with representatives of the Bahamas Christian Council, said he asked the council to plan a national prayer service.
He also announced there will be a national day of mourning.
“The road to recovery and healing, will be long and hard,” said Minnis, who acknowledged that The Bahamas “could not, and cannot face this tragedy alone”.
He said the entire government has been mobilized to meet the challenge of recovery in partnership with the international community.
Minnis said right after the all clear was given by the Department of Meteorology, the government and its agencies began mobilizing search, rescue and recovery efforts. He said security, food, water and other resources were deployed as quickly as was possible once the all-clear was given, so that first responders were not put at risk.
According to the prime minister, the government also asked for the immediate assistance of the United States Coast Guard, which has made around-the-clock transport via helicopters and other resources to evacuate survivors, particularly those in need of medical attention to New Providence.
Minnis also said that as soon as was possible, the government deployed rescue and security personnel from the defense force and police force.
“Our search, rescue and recovery efforts are one response with many parts,” Minnis said.
The U.S. Coast Guard continues to lead air rescue efforts and transport; USAID has continued to provide significant relief supplies and the Federal Bureau of Investigation was on the ground too with U.S. rescue, aid and security officials.
Minnis also announced that the government was utilizing disaster management experts from the United States, who previously helped to respond to other major hurricanes, to help strengthen the capacity of NEMA.
He said United States President Donald Trump has proven to be a true friend to The Bahamas. He thanked Trump and the American people and government for their generosity.
He also thanked the United Kingdom for Her Majesty’s Royal Nacy; CARICOM for its security forces and aid officials; the Dutch for its Royal Navy personnel; Canada for its assistance, and the United Nations.
The prime minister said the combined efforts of these agencies had focused on search and rescue, and at this stage “we are now shifting to recovery, stabilization and restoration”.
According to the prime minister, there is sufficient food on the ground in Abaco and Grand Bahama for those who need assistance.
As it relates to Abaco, Minnis said a field hospital has been set up. He also said a floating hospital arrived in Grand Bahama.
The prime minister reported that thousands of Abaconians and Grand Bahamians have already been evacuated, and the government has been aggressively working to set up and secure appropriate temporary housing and shelters on both islands for those who have been displaced.
To evacuees from Abaco, the prime minister assured that as soon as appropriate accommodations are established, they will be able to return.
As of September Monday, the number of evacuees in shelters had risen to 1,600 people. More than 5,500 people have been evacuated from the impacted islands.
“Your government is committed to rebuilding these communities and restoring the lives of our people,” he said. “Another way to help is by not re-circulating false information. Let us as a people, stay focused on helping those in need. This must be the focus of every Bahamian during this great tragedy.”
The prime minister acknowledged that there have been problems in coordinating aid due to the “magnitude of the devastation”. He said he understood the frustrations with those who have had to deal with “bureaucratic roadblocks” and announced that the government was “aggressively shredding the red tape”.
Additionally, he advised that security personnel on the ground has stabilized the security situation on Abaco. There have been numerous reports of looting on the island, and concerns about armed men targeting pockets of individuals.
“There were incidents of looting and lawlessness that will not be tolerated,” Minnis said.
According to the prime minister, a combined 900 Royal Bahamas Defence Force marines and Royal Bahamas Police Force officers have been deployed to both islands to enforce safety and security on the island amid the humanitarian crisis.