New protocols being applied to hurricane preparations amid COVID-19
NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Minister of State for Disaster Preparedness Iram Lewis said today that while the government is not 100 percent prepared for another hurricane were one to impact the country today, extensive preparations were being made with new protocols at the forefront to deal with the unique situation of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) this hurricane season.
In an interview with Eyewitness News, Lewis said the ministry considered how to house evacuees while ensuring there was minimal risk of potentially spreading the virus in a disaster.
“We must take the additional dynamic now of COVID-19 in our preparations,” he said.
“When I came up with the idea, I was thinking about the COVID-19 reality.
“We do not have the time now to retrofit all of the auditoriums by putting up dividing partitions.
“Being concerned about the spread of COVID-19, having use of the smaller classrooms, it is easier to sanitize; easier to manage smaller groups and it’s easier to control the spread.
“Fortunately, all of the stakeholders thought it was a brilliant idea so, now we are moving in that direction.”
According to Lewis, elevated properties and multi-storied schools were being identified and prepared.
One such example is Sister Mary Patricia Junior High School in Freeport.
“Right now, that is ready,” Lewis said.
“That’s a two-story edifice where we have facilities attached to the classroom block.
“We have showers and we have kitchens attached the classroom blocks, so again, the two levels — the ground floor and the upper floor — can be used as shelters, and if there is any flooding in that area, we will use the second story.”
St. George’s High School, a multi-level facility in Grand Bahama and Cooper’s Town Primary School in Abaco, which sits on elevated ground, are two more examples schools which will double as a hurricane shelter on the island, according to Lewis.
While preparing designated school classrooms remains the ministry’s “primary focus”, the minister said the government will continue to prepare gymnasiums as a backup in the event other areas become compromised.
During Hurricane Dorian last September, a number of designated hurricane shelters were compromised, forcing residents and officials to expose themselves to the elements to move to other shelters.
In some instances, people lost their lives.
Today, Lewis said an inventory of all the shelters and schools is being completed; inspections were being and critical supplies were being checked to ensure preparedness “from the beginning of the hurricane season; from day one”.
He also said all relevant personnel has been identified and meetings were ongoing among stakeholders to ensure “we are able to check all the boxes”.
The 2020 Atlantic hurricane season begins June 1.
The Bahamas, particularly Grand Bahama and Abaco, which were pounded by Hurricane Dorian last September, have yet to recover.
When asked if the country was sufficiently prepared for a major hurricane today, Lewis said preparations have not reached 100 percent completion, but “we are moving fast”.
“We are doing our best to ensure that and we must take the additional dynamic now of COVID-19 in our preparations,” he said.
“Imagine if we had prepared all of the facilities by the beginning of March; and then now with COVID-19 in our face, we would have to make an adjustment. If it difficult to prepare for [another record storm], but Dorian has certainly given us a new benchmark.
Lewis said shelters in south Abaco, were between 95-99 percent prepared.
If the event of a dangerous storm impacting a vulnerable area, Lewis said the government will evacuate.
He pointed out that areas in Grand Bahama and Abaco, particularly the south, were unaffected by Dorian and could be used to evacuate residents depending on the scenario.
Mandatory evacuation legislation was passed in Parliament after Dorian.
He said areas for example in South Abaco and other parts of Grand Bahama were largely unaffected by the Dorian, and shelters there remain available.