With the harrowing experiences of Hurricanes Matthew and Joaquin still fresh for many residents, preparations for the still unpredictable Hurricane Irma moved into gear on the weekend.
The National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) has activated its preparedness system, island administrators have started to meet, and many businesses across the country have seen increased traffic.
Forecaster Basil Dean said late yesterday that a clearer read on Irma’s path should come tomorrow, but The Bahamas will likely feel some impact, no matter which direction the storm takes.
The category three hurricane was moving at 14 miles per hour last night with maximum sustained winds near 115 miles per hour.
Strengthening was forecast for today.
Dean said there are three scenarios as they relate to Irma.
An early turn to the north would mean good news for The Bahamas, putting the track parallel to, and east of the archipelago.
Should that not happen, with Irma following the forecast track, the hurricane would move dangerously close to the Turks and Caicos Islands and the southeast Bahamas by early Friday morning, Dean said.
Irma is also a very broad system, with outer rainbands extending well to the west and east of the center of circulation, he noted.
“This means that even if the center does not pass over The Bahamas, rain bands generating occasional heavy downpours would be realized as Irma treks westward,” Dean said.
“If Irma steers farther south, that tracking should take it over Hispaniola, which is a mountainous terrain, which tends to have a negative impact on intensity, meaning Irma would likely be weakened as it moves over Hispaniola, and that too can spell some degree of relief for The Bahamas in terms of the wind speed.”
Dean added, “Whichever track Irma takes, it is clear that rain bands from Irma will certainly impact us.
“How much of the winds we get will be determined by either the early northward curvature or Irma staying on the forecast track.
“Moving forward in terms of a timeline for the rest of The Bahamas, which would include New Providence, the impact from Irma will be felt late Friday night going into Saturday morning.”
If Irma maintains the forecast track — if it does not turn — it could become a category four storm, Dean said.
Captain Stephen Russell, the NEMA director, said Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis, was set to meet with the heads of relevant agencies last night for an initial briefing.
NEMA officials, agency heads and the prime minister are scheduled to address the nation at a press conference at police headquarters in New Providence at noon today.
Russell said all administrators are on alert, and all of them have satellite phones.
“A category four storm is projected to approach from what I’m seeing so far, so we pray that it veers off to the north… We rely on our infrastructure that is in place in terms of our satellite phones,” he said.
Administrators across The Bahamas have emergency meetings planned for today and tomorrow.
Some have met already.
Samuel Miller, the former Inagua administrator who is the new administrator for San Salvador, said before he left Matthew Town a few days ago, emergency services officials there met and identified the shelters.
He said yesterday San Salvador is on high alert.
Miller said he and his team intend to check the structural integrity of shelters today to ensure they are safe.
Chrisfield Johnson, the administrator for Acklins, said there are some loose ends that need to be tied up, but Acklins is taking the threat of Irma seriously.
Johnson said the most significant challenge Acklins faces is suitable shelters.
“The concern that we really have is that Acklins is one of those islands that is very low-lying and flat, and even during normal times water comes in, in shore, but I believe that if everything goes well with the prayers of everyone, then we will do well,” said Johnson, who stressed that residents of the island were taking the threat seriously and preparing.
Some residents still suffer the emotional scars of Hurricane Joaquin, which impacted the southeast and central Bahamas in 2015, and Hurricane Matthew, which devastated the central and northwest Bahamas, including New Providence, Andros and Grand Bahama last October.
Joaquin was a horrific experience for many on Long Island.
Long Island Administrator Cleola Pinder said yesterday officials there are taking nothing to chance.
“We are preparing the best that we can,” Pinder said.
“Everyone is taking this seriously. They are preparing themselves.”
She said fishermen who are out are preparing to come to land by tomorrow.
In Landrail Point, Crooked Island, businessman Michael Carroll, a fisherman who owns a convenience store and gas station, said business picked up yesterday.
Carroll spent 19 hours on his boat along with other residents during Joaquin.
Many there are still rebuilding from that storm.
Carroll said yesterday that residents are happy that they have time to prepare for Irma, which was not the case almost two years ago.
When Joaquin hit, many had done no preparations, as the storm formed suddenly and caught them off guard.
While nerves are still frayed, Carroll said residents are emotionally stronger as a result of the terrifying ordeal.
“If you went through Joaquin, you can go through anything,” he said.