SHELTERS: Officials warn unregulated communities, homes face greater storm threat

SHELTERS: Officials warn unregulated communities, homes face greater storm threat
Carl Smith

NASSAU, BAHAMAS — While acknowledging The Bahamas relies on public and private facilities to double as hurricane shelters due to a lack of dedicated shelter facilities, Ministry of Disaster Preparedness, Management and Reconstruction Permanent Secretary Carl Smith expressed concerns about the number of unregulated settlements across the archipelago and those not following the proper building code in the face or more devastating storms.

He described it as a “serious problem”.

“A lot of buildings, even private homes are not complying to the building code and Hurricane Dorian was an extraordinary hurricane that sat on top of The Bahamas for quite a while,” he said.

He continued: “We all have a responsibility. Some of us through our inaction or action encourage such settlements and to place that on government’s shoulders, we have a responsibility to ensure that those things are eliminated.”

The Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 through November 30.

During deadly Hurricane Dorian in September 2019, a number of shelters were compromised or destroyed, forcing residents to take on the elements to find alternative shelter.

The Category 5 storm slammed Abaco and Grand Bahama on September 1, making a three-day crawl over those islands with winds over 185 miles per hour and storm surges of up to 25 feet.

Following the storm, the United States government gifted The Bahamas mobile shelters valued at around $3.6 million.

The total package included 40 tents that can house 10 people per tent and be outfitted with showers and air conditioning; three field kitchens for 600 meals per day; among other items.

National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) Director Captain Stephen Russell said those mobile shelters will be placed on defense force vessels to be erected in the aftermath of a potential hurricane that has impacted an island or islands.

According to Russell, a report was completed related to mass fatalities as a result of natural disasters.

He said that report will be released to the public in due time.

Russell pointed out that an international team from the Red Cross is expected to visit The Bahamas next week to examine how to deal with fatalities following natural disasters.

Smith added that The Bahamas continues to improve upon what it does, learning lessons from Dorian’s destruction in Grand Bahama and Abaco.

The former administration broke ground on a $1.8 million community centre and hurricane shelter in Central Rocks, Abaco in December 2020 that was expected to accommodate 800 people during a hurricane.

The development had an expected completion date by the end of summer 2021, but as of last month, officials said it was unlikely the center and hurricane shelter would be completed in time for the upcoming hurricane season.

According to Disaster Reconstruction Authority (DRA) Chairman Alex Storr, who said the government was seeking to restart the project, it will likely cost more than $3 million.

According to officials, The Bahamas’ existing building code can withstand Category 3 hurricanes, but if the building code required homes to be built to withstand Category 5 hurricanes for example, a lot of Bahamians could not become homeowners due to the sheer cost.

Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister Myles Laroda, who has ministerial responsibility for disasters in The Bahamas, also advised that funding has been sourced to bring relief to an additional 1,100 individuals who were approved for assistance following Dorian.

He noted that 2,600 people applied and approved, but that figure climbed to 3,700, leaving around 1,100 left to assist.

He said funds are now in hand to assist those individuals who are at various stages of recovery.

About Royston Jones Jr.

Royston Jones Jr. is a senior digital reporter and occasional TV news anchor at Eyewitness News. Since joining Eyewitness News as a digital reporter in 2018, he has done both digital and broadcast reporting, notably providing the electoral analysis for Eyewitness News’ inaugural election night coverage, “Decision Now 2021”.