NASSAU, BAHAMAS- Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis warned today super storms like Hurricane Dorian are now “the new norm” due to climate change.
He underscored the existential threat posed to The Bahamas and the region as he opened the debate on amendments to the Disaster Preparedness and Response Act.
The government tabled the amendment bill last week, along with a suite of bills after the deadly Category 5 storm’s passage laid waste to portions of Grand Bahama and Abaco on September 1-3.
“We can no longer assume that what we have experienced is a once-in- a-lifetime event,” Minnis said.
“This is the new norm and we must prepare for the new norm.
“We must prepare to fight an enemy that we did not cause to attack us. We must prepare to fight an enemy that we made very little contribution in terms of the strength and its determination.
“Climate change is creating a new terrifying norm that poses an existential threat to our Family of Islands and to our Commonwealth.”
The bill seeks to amend the act to empower the prime minister to make certain necessary orders.
In the Lower House today, Minnis said: “In preparation for this hurricane, we would have made numerous announcements and I would have warned on numerous occasions that storm surge and flood would be approximately three times my height.
“…I warned of the flooding and we warned that individuals in Grand Bahama should evacuate to higher grounds and the central areas.
“We also warned that individuals in Abaco should move to the southern end of the island because we felt that that area would have been less impacted, if impacted.
“There were some words I wanted to say to individuals who had refused and insisted that they were not about to evacuate but I had to remain very diplomatic in what I said.
“…I said to those who had refused to evacuate that this may be the last time they hear my voice.
“From experience of previous hurricanes in Grand Bahama, I wanted to inform people that but I was somewhat frightened that they might have been too fearful.
“I wanted to remind people that there is a possibility that many would have to move and escape to their ceilings because the water level would have reached their ceiling. I also wanted to inform them that they should have available some form of equipment because the roof may be their only escape.
“But in spite of all that many had not heed our warning.
“The ocean came in with devastating ferocity.
“There were many deaths. Many remain missing.”
The orders in the bill would provide for mandatory evacuations, curfews, and restriction of movement in certain areas for a period of time.
An order made under the bill would also: “authorize the taking of any steps which is reasonably justifiable in the circumstances by any person or class of person to suppress anarchy, civil disorder, looting, home or shop breaking, or any assault of any kind against any person”.
If passed, the bill would provide for orders declaring relief from the disaster, including a rebate of business license fees, waiver of value added tax, exemptions from excise tax or tariff tax, and waiver of any other fee, levy or tax payable under any law.
Additionally, the bill would make the prime minister’s orders while in effect, superior to any other law that may conflict.
“In light of such super storms we have to change the way we think, the way we act, and change our laws and mindsets in order to better protect human life,” Minnis said.
“As prime minister I take the safety and protection of the Bahamian people as among my most solemn obligations.
“How we once prepared for and respond to hurricanes is no longer good enough in this era of super storms”.
“This is why my government has brought forward these amendments to the Disaster Preparedness and Response Act,” he added.