IOM study: Abaco shelters were unprepared for Hurricane Dorian

IOM study: Abaco shelters were unprepared for Hurricane Dorian
The Abaco Islands post Hurricane Dorian. Photo Credit: Philipp Hübner

NASSAU, BAHAMAS — The shelters on Abaco during the passage of Hurricane Dorian received “significantly less support” than those on Grand Bahama, according to the preliminary findings of a recent assessment led by the International Organization of Migration (IOM).

The report titled, Assessment of Preparedness of Emergency Shelters on Grand Bahama and The Abaco Islands for 2020 Hurricane Season, obtained by Eyewitness News, warns there is insufficient shelter capacity for another storm on the two Dorian-ravaged islands and insists that islands are underprepared for the 2020 Hurricane Season.

It further outlines the current condition of each emergency shelter, assess operational effectiveness during Dorian, and consider the suitability of each shelter for the 2020 season.

“Shelters in The Abaco Islands received significantly less support than those on Grand Bahama,” the report noted.

“The shelters are more self- sufficient in some respects, with about half having emergency generators and many having emergency water supplies.

“In other respects, they are less professionalized, have less equipment and supplies, and in most cases are left on their own to prepare.

“In many cases, particularly on the islands and cays, this means having an untrained shelter manager, or no shelter manager at all, no registration system or procedures, no medics or defence force presence, no emergency medical kit or fire extinguishers, no emergency communications kit, and no provisions of food, water, or sleeping cots.

“This should be remedied by shelter training and equipment and supplies stored at the shelters in secure areas, ready for activation.”

The report noted that in the days before the hurricane made landfall some preparations were made by social services and administrators to open the emergency shelters; however, most emergency stock was being held on Grand Bahama and there was “no ability” to get it to Abaco and distributed in time.

Some of the shelters reportedly received a small package for the shelter manager with minimal supplies, emergency equipment, and documentation for registration and shelter management.

Prior to the storm, the Abaco Islands had 13 official shelters spread throughout the islands – nine schools, two churches and two community halls – with five on Great Abaco and the other eight on other islands and cays.

The shelters had a capacity of 1,676 for a population of 17,224 equaling capacity for just 9.7 percent of the population, according to the report.

The report noted that the Marsh Harbour area, with approximately 60 percent of the 17,000 residents of The Abaco islands had just one official emergency shelter – the Central Abaco Primary School.

The school sheltered 438 evacuees but was extremely compromised with significant roof and window damage.

There is currently no official shelter in Marsh Harbour, which is the primary cause of concern for the 2020 hurricane season according to the report.

Unofficial shelters were also made available during the passage of the storm, particularly the Pink Haitian Church in Treasure Cay, which housed just over 1,000.

And as the storm intensified, residents in Marsh Harbour fled to the Government Centre and the Clinic during the eye of the hurricane, which sheltered between 2,000 to 3,000 people for two to three days.

Currently, of the thirteen shelters on the official list, six with an official capacity of 606 are usable as an emergency shelter, the report noted.

It also specifically pointed to the Central Abaco Primary School, which also served as a shelter and housed nearly 438 people, as the biggest concern of the shelters offline, given that it has an official capacity of 600 and a theoretical surge capacity of twice that.

Of the shelters currently off-line, Central Abaco Primary School remains the biggest concern, having an official capacity of 600, and a theoretical surge capacity of twice that.

Dorian pounded the islands of Abaco and Grand Bahama between September 1-3, claiming the lives of a confirmed 74 people — and displacing thousands, many of whom resided in shantytown communities in Abaco.

The Category 5 storm destroyed the two largest of the six shantytowns on the island – The Mudd and the Peas.

“A major issue leading to, during, and after the hurricane passed was the plight of the Haitian migrant population, many of whom were undocumented,” the report added.

“Many were reluctant to take refuge in the emergency shelters despite being those in the most vulnerable locations with the most vulnerable homes,” it said.

“The islands administrators worked hard to try and convince them to take shelter, with mixed results.

“The epicenter of this was at the Mudd in Marsh Harbour, where many Haitian migrants who did not seek emergency shelter lost their lives due to the combination of storm surge, being at the point of highest wind speeds, flooding, and tornados built into the eye wall.”

The report noted that while 282 persons remain missing, the actual toll, when including Haitian migrants, is likely to be much higher.

The Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 through November 30, and meteorologists expect it to be another busy year with at least three major hurricanes.