Former PMs: dedicated, outfitted shelters necessary
NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Despite the government’s plan to introduce mandatory evacuation legislation after hundreds of residents in the Abaco cays failed to evacuate ahead of Hurricane Dorian, Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham said he does not believe legislating evacuations will force those who do not wish to leave to do so.
Ingraham was responding to questions from the media during a joint press conference with former Prime Minister Perry Christie at Odyssey Aviation.
The former leaders said they were ready and willing to support, assist or advise the government in any way deemed necessary given their combined experience.
When asked about the issue of mandatory evacuations, Ingraham said, “Let’s get something straight; all mandatory evacuation means is if the government says you must move; if you do not move at a certain point in time we are not going to come to collect you to get you, but we can’t make you move.
“How can the government pass a law that says if you don’t come I am going to arrest you, handcuff you, and carry you where – to shelter and have the police watch you or take you to Fox Hill prison. So, mandatory evacuation means that the government will say move; urge you to move — if you don’t move, I’m not going to be able to come and get after a certain time, but don’t believe any story that says I am going to lift you up and carry you. That ain’t ‘ga’ happen. It doesn’t happen in the United States of America where you get that from and it ain’t ‘ga’ happen here.”
Christie said the country has to be more proactive in reaching out to people and getting them to move.
“I think the Abaco experience will oblige people to know that their lives would be at risk with certain types of hurricanes and I think that is going to be another big step forward in people giving more effective responses,” he said
Ingraham added that government have “tremendous influence and authority” without the use of force.
“Just by virtue of being the government and so the government can maximize the number of people who evacuate their place,” he said.
“There will always be some stubborn people who are not going to go no matter what happens, but you can get a vast majority of people to follow you if you tell them where they are going to go; how they are going to get there, and you have a safe place for them to go.
“For instance, take Marsh Harbour; take Abaco — there were no safe places to evacuate them to other than the public clinic and the government administrative building. There were no other safe places to evacuate them to. They took advantage of those two buildings; they maximized the space in them. They came in there by the thousands and what not, but where else are you going to put them.”
Several of the named shelters in Grand Bahama and Abaco were compromised with floodwaters or lost roofs, and in some instances sustained extensive damaged or were destroyed.
Asked whether there was a need to consider constructing dedicate shelters, Ingraham said one of the lessons learnt from Dorian is the question of shelter.
The former prime minister noted that the Church of God in Cooper’s Town, Abaco, where he resides, is a very large church situated on a hill that was used as a shelter during the storm.
He said the government provided the church with a generator.
In contrast, Ingraham said the same sort of facilities were not available in Dundas Town and Murphy Town or that of East Grand Bahama.
“And so, yes, one of the lessons the government will learn and we all will learn is that let’s take account of where we need to have safe facilities in case of a disaster like this in the future and to be able to help people get to those places,” he said.
He added, “So when you talk about mandatory evacuations you are talking placed where people can go and be safe and to give them confidence that they can go to these places and be safe.”
To the point of dedicated shelters, Christie agreed.
He said in each island there must be shelters that conform with the “highest standards based on the experience of Grand Bahama and Abaco”.
Noting that many of the people in communities such as The Mudd and Pigeon Peas in Abaco are comprised are of Haitian descent, who are either Bahamian citizens or lawful residents, Ingraham said “if they had been spoken to in a language — I am told, from the criticisms that they better understand Creole; that more of them may well have sought shelter from the places that they were in”.
However, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis said Ingraham was mistaken on the point that government officials did not visit shantytowns with Creole speakers to warn residents to evacuate.