NASSAU, BAHAMAS – The National Management Emergency Agency (NEMA) is expected to provide funding to Family Island churches that can be used as hurricane shelters.
NEMA Director Captain Russell made the comment during a press conference yesterday, outlining the agency’s mitigation, preparation, and response efforts for the 2020 Atlantic Hurricane season – which begins today.
“We know going into the season one of our main challenges is adequate shelters for persons who need to go to shelters,” Russell said.
“The majority of our shelter is either school structures or churches. Grand Bahama alone has 16 or more churches that serve as shelters.
“…We are trying to see how we can assist those structures in getting up and ready for the upcoming hurricane season. This week we are going to direct some funding to those churches that have served as shelters…and we are going to find the appropriate work crews to tackle those churches that can be up and ready as quickly as possible.”
Russell said teams are working to get as many churches up and running within the next two weeks.
He did not indicate how much funding will be made available for this initiative.
Hurricane Dorian decimated parts of Grand Bahama and Abaco when it barreled its way through the Northwest Bahamas over eight months ago.
The Bahamas remains in a state of emergency as efforts continue to mount to slow the local spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19).
Yesterday, Assistant Director of Social Services Leonard Cargill advised that assessments of shelters throughout New Providence are underway.
Cargill said key holders of those properties have been notified; however, he noted that some shelters will need adjustments to comply with social distancing requirements due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
He said given the diminished capacity due to the pandemic, the department is looking at using all of the schools and classrooms throughout the country as storm shelters.
Cargill added that social workers are still in crisis mode from Hurricane Dorian.
Minister of State for Disaster Preparedness Iram Lewis noted that they will have to increase capacity using schools and classrooms to ensure there is no mass assembly of people.
He said the government is seeking to engage 16 contractors this week to ensure schools in Grand Bahama are ready to act as hurricane shelters.
Lewis stressed that compromised shelters will not be used as shelters.
Officials indicated that all 23 Family Island administrative districts are in a “state of readiness” for this 2020 Atlantic Hurricane season.
Acting Director of the Department Local Government Brenda Colebrooke noted that Family Islands are actively reviewing and updating their local disaster plans.
Meteorologists have forecasted a greater than average hurricane season with 16 -18 named storms, of which eight/nine could become hurricanes and four are expected to develop into Category 3 or higher storms.
Lewis insisted that disaster preparedness is “everybody’s business”.
He further called on all government agencies to prepare their organization and personal space within these organizations to reduce the impact of hurricanes and to facilitate continuity of operations in the aftermath of the impact.
“Our prayer is for a quiet and uneventful 2020 hurricane season but if faced with challenges that we are able to withstand any level or category of storm.”
Bahamas Power and Light (BPL) advised that it is prepared to respond, should a storm impact the country.
Acting Director of Field Operations Sterling Moss said the power company’s hurricane response is an annual exercise, with a preseason checklist where they acquire materials six months ahead of the storm.
Those materials are on their way to the Family Islands, he said.
Moss outlined the power company’s five contingency plans in case there is major flooding, heavy winds, or other significant impacts that require power outages.
“Prepare yourself mentally now that if there’s a significant impact, it may result in power outages.”
The Water and Sewerage Corporation (WSC) advised that while the pandemic has delayed its preparations efforts, it is “actively in preparation mode” for the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season.