NASSAU, BAHAMAS –Minister of State for Disaster Management Iram Lewis yesterday urged residents in the Farm, Abaco to leave the shantytown and register with Social Services to receive assistance.
In an interview with Eyewitness News Online, Lewis said some 75 families continue to hamper cleanup efforts.
Asked what the options would be for those residents leaving the shantytown, Lewis pointed to the government’s Family Relief Centre.
“There will be accommodations,” he continued.
“Bahamians will be first, of course. But if you’re here legally, then why not. We won’t allow you to live in those unsanitary conditions.
“And of course, the law is the law, if you are here illegally.
“We’ve been very humane and we’ve accommodated the undocumented but if you’re undocumented and you’re here and becoming burden on the state, then we cannot sit back and allow Bahamians to suffer.”
Dorian pounded the islands of Abaco and Grand Bahama between September 1-3, claiming the lives of a confirmed 70 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.
Following the storm, the government issued a cease order with immediate effect for The Mudd, The Peas, Sandbanks and The Farm in order to prevent anyone from building or developing in those communities.
The government has commissioned contractors to clear down the debris from the shantytowns.
“The challenge we are having right now is persons are still living there,” Lewis said said.
“They are still there and we must get them off because we cannot bring in the bulldozers and we cannot bring in the machines.
“And the thing is they don’t want to move.
“We don’t want anyone to enable them to break the law. Where they are staying right now is illegal. It’s unsafe.
“We are coming out of hurricane season and in six months we will be back into it.
“And besides the instability of the structure, the waste, the natural waste, we don’t have adequate supply of fresh water.”
Lewis said yesterday that if those Farm residents present themselves to the government, “we will find a way for those who have the necessary paperwork.”
“Come into the community,” he said.
“Let us know who you are, register. If you have your documents, let us help you. Social Services is trying and NEMA is trying.
“The reconstruction ministry is responsible for reconstruction and part of the reconstruction is cleanup.
“We got to get it cleaned and it is being hampered.
“So right now you are putting us in a position where we can’t help you because you are hampering progress.”
He said soon, the government will have to make some hard decisions with respect to the community.
“The authority is now fully constituted, and we expect to carry their mandate,” he said.
The government has announced it will spend approximately $6.4 million on 250 dome structures for temporary housing for displaced storm victims.
It has been repeatedly stressed that “illegals” will not be allowed into those facilities.
Acknowledging displaced victims in Florida, Eleuthera, New Providence and throughout the rest of The Bahamas outweigh the number of accommodations announced by the government, Lewis noted this is just the first phase.
“We are building as we go,” he said. “
We are moving gradually.”
The recently appointed minister added that moving into the new year his main priority is finding housing for displaced Dorian victims.
“Getting people into their homes, getting them out of the shelters into dwellings, that is very critical,” Lewis said.
“Infrastructure is up and running. The airport is running. The harbor is now clear to receive goods and that’s in the north and in the south.
“And so again we now have the ability to bring in construction materials and we are putting our formula in place where we now can start issuing vouchers, so persons can get, not cash, you get materials or you get labor.”