Petition calling for release of storm victims nears 800 signatories

Petition calling for release of storm victims nears 800 signatories
An aerial shot of Marsh Harbour, Abaco, in the immediate wake of deadly Hurricane Dorian. (FILE PHOTO)

Dames: Govt. understands criticisms, but process must “take its course”

NASSAU, BAHAMAS — A petition urging the government to expedite the process of identifying Hurricane Dorian storm victims has garnered more than 750 signatures.

The petition titled ‘Get Justice for Hurricane Dorian Survivors – Release Our Dead and Let us Grieve and Heal’ calls for the release of victims’ bodies to their families and/or conducting a mass burial of those who cannot be identified.

It was launched by the Bahamas Constitution Party last month.

It reads: “The communities of Central Abaco and East End Grand Bahama were even more adversely affected with the death of many members of their community, causing many persons to suffer in the aftermath from post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety.

“Almost five months after that tragic and disastrous event, the dead bodies of those persons who died as a result of the tidal surge, and were collected by agents of the Bahamian government thereafter, still remain in refrigerated containers.

The petition continued: “The government of The Bahamas, via the Ministry of Health has both the authority and the power to cause the bodies to be identified forthwith and given to families for burial; and/or cause a mass funeral and burial for those who cannot be identified based on the state of decomposition.

“We seek justice and closure for the people of Abaco and Grand Bahama because we share in their sorrow; because they are our families and our friends.”

The BCP said those affected must be properly allowed to grieve and heal.

The islands of Grand Bahama and Abaco were ravaged by Category 5 storm last September, impacting nearly 30,000 people, and killing at least 71 people.

According to Police Commissioner Anthony Ferguson, 54 people remain missing as of January.

As of October 18, 282 people were missing as a result of the storm.

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Minister of National Security Marvin Dames the process of identifying storm victims was moving ahead.

Dames acknowledged criticisms, particularly from victim’s families, but underscored “we have to sit back, pause for a second and let the process take its course.”

“Anytime you are dealing with the death of someone that person has a loved one,” he said.

“Sometimes there is an expectation for ‘well, go out there, why aren’t you’. We have to sit back, pause for a second and let the process take its course.”

He added: “We’re explaining the process as well and this is something, we have been explaining from day one”.

However, the BCP said if those affected cannot heal, the nation cannot heal.

It encouraged the public to support pressuring the government to take immediate action to resolve the issue, which it said “now threatens the physical health for those in Abaco, and the emotional and psychological well-being of all survivors of Hurricane-Dorian”.

As part of the Ministry of Health’s health strategic response plan of action, it was recommended that the government allocate $275,000 for the burial of unclaimed victims of Hurricane Dorian.

The government had initially put that cost at $75,000, according to a previous plan.

Of the victims, 60 were found in Abaco, and 11 in Grand Bahama.

Up to December 2019, 14 storm victims had been released to families.

Red Cross was tapped to collect DNA samples from Dorian survivors in order to identify dozens of unclaimed storm victims.