Some Abaconians prepared to defy proposed mandatory evacuation legislation
MARSH HARBOUR, ABACO – Yvonne Key, a lifelong resident of Abaco, said she dares the government or any of its agencies to attempt to remove her from her home.
Responding to provisions for mandatory evacuation in the proposed disaster bill, the outspoken 73-year-old said she would like to see the day someone comes into her home to imprison her for failing to heed government warnings to evacuate.
She spoke to Eyewitness News Online from an armchair, surrounded by a small pile of books, on her porch in Marsh Harbour last Friday.
Turning to her long-term friend Bettee Albury, 76, who sat beside her during the interview, Key asked: “If somebody knocked on your door and said we are taking you out, would you let them carry you?”
Albury immediately said she would rather die than leave her home and her two dogs behind.
Hurricane Dorian killed at least 65 people as it ripped through Abaco and Grand Bahama during September 1-3.
Hundreds are still missing.
Both Key and Albury stayed at their respective homes during the monster Category 5 storm.
Key said her house remains livable despite substantial damage.
A large heap of debris sits in front of the single-story home, nearly two months after Dorian threatened to crush it.
“I built it.” she said.
“I lived in it for 52 years. I stayed in it during the hurricane. I am in it today. I don’t plant to leave. They can’t make me go. This is my home and I dare them to come and make me leave my house. I dare them.”
According to the Disaster Preparedness and Response (Amendment) Bill, 2019, those who fail to heed an evacuation order within a specified area, island or cay “without justifiable cause to evacuate” — commits an offense liable to a term of imprisonment of one month and/or a fine not exceeding $500.
If refusal to adhere to the evacuation order is likely to imperil the life of another, imprisonment for three months and/or a fine not exceeding $1,000.
Key called for the resuscitation of a five-decades old political party, the Abaco Independence Movement (AIM), and its campaign for self-determination.
“In the late 50s and early 60s, when the men in Marsh Harbour had more backbone than I guess they have today, we started AIM, and AIM was Abaco Independence Movement,” she said.
“We wanted to pull away from The Bahamas. We didn’t want to be attached to The Bahamas and if we would have carried that through in the early 60s we would have been so much better off.
Key said: “I wish somebody out there would start AIM again and pull us away from Nassau and everywhere else so we could be the Abaco Independent Movement… That’s what we should have, but nobody ain’t big enough to make me leave my house.”
For her part, Albury explained her dogs were like her children.
Her shutters and windows blew out during the storm, with rain flooding her bedroom.
“No, no, no,” she said, raising her arms when asked to consider being forced to leave her home.
“In the first place, I have two dogs and they ain’t going to carry my dogs. I’ll die before I go without them.
Albury said her son wanted her to leave Abaco for Florida after the storm, but she refused.
“I said Sean, my house is okay, it’s livable.”
Albury continued: “He said ‘you don’t want to go because you are going to have to leave your dogs’. I said well yes, that’s one of the main reasons. I am not going to leave my dogs. They’re just like my children.”
Albury said she understands the need for residents to evacuate low-lying, flood prone areas ahead of a major hurricane.
However, she maintained the decision will be her choice, and not the government.
Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis wrapped up debate on the bill in Parliament yesterday afternoon.
If passed, the bill will also authorize the government to impose curfews and prohibit travel in areas declared mandatory evacuation zones.
It would also prohibit the movement of anyone within a specified area when necessary.
The opposition has said it will oppose the bill.
Yesterday, Minnis acknowledged there are reservations over the amendments, but stressed they were necessary to save lives.
“When storms come and there is a significant threat to life, we want Bahamians to move away from dangerous areas and to seek shelter in safer places,” he said.
“This is the compelling, clear and simple purpose of the evacuation orders. Evacuation orders are commonplace around the world in times of natural disaster. They make sense. Such orders save lives.”
Attorney Wayne Munroe opined recently that, if passed, the bill would be challenged and struck down on constitutional grounds.
Former Prime Miniser Hubert Ingraham has also questioned how the government could pass a measure that authorizes it to forcibly remove people from their homes.