About 3,500 people have been evacuated through public and private efforts from Abaco and Grand Bahama to New Providence in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian so far, National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) Spokesperson Carl Smith said yesterday.
“The total number of evacuees to Nassau is approximately 3,500 so far,” he said at a NEMA press conference.
“There are a number of partners running evacuations today, including Bahamasair, Delta Airlines, Western Air, Trans Island [Airways] and other private partners. The Bahamas Fast Ferries and private boaters also did some sea evacuations.
“The number of persons presenting themselves for evacuation is diminishing.”
Smith said there are no mandatory evacuation orders in place.
Smith noted that as of 10 a.m. yesterday, the Kendal G.L. Isaacs National Gymnasium is at capacity with 422 people. At the Fox Hill Community Shelter, there are 202 people. There are 91 evacuees at Calvary Baptist Church and 50 at the Salvation Army. At the Pilgrim Baptist Church, there are 95. He said another center was opened in Adelaide yesterday morning.
In total, 860 people are living in shelters on New Providence.
Although NEMA Director Stephen Russell insisted on Saturday that New Providence could accommodate all of the evacuees from Grand Bahama and Abaco, the government is working on temporary housing solutions on both islands once the cleanup process has finished.
“Our estimated number of persons in Abaco in need of food and water and temporary housing is about 7,000 to 10,000 persons,” he said at a NEMA press conference on Saturday.
“Further, a 50-member team from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the U.S. Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, has been deployed to the Abaco area to continue the search and operations through the entire mainland of Abaco and the cays.”
Russell added, “Our desire is to get as many people out of the island at this time until we can sanitize the whole area from debris and deceased carcasses of animals and other persons that may be in the community,” he said.
“Then we can get them back into a clean environment. That’s our main concern.
“It’s not our desire to bring everybody into Nassau, but Nassau can house them if necessary. We are looking at the tent city concept and the container city concept.
“The research and recovery team that’s on the island now, they have put the island on a grid system for us. And as we clean and we start moving debris, we can set up camps for persons to come in, once you know the area has been cleaned. We are doing a methodical process, so that as we clean up debris, we set up camps in strategic areas.”
He added, “That’s why we’re trying to get started right away with the clearing process after the recovery program has ended.”
NEMA Operations Manager Gayle Outten-Moncur and John-Michael Clarke, chairman of the Disaster Relief and Reconstruction Committee, said on Saturday that on both Abaco and Grand Bahama, tent and container cities are being planned.
“The plan is to set up temporary housing on the affected islands and in New Providence,” said Outten-Moncur.
“At this moment, the shelter operations are based around housing for evacuees.”
She added, “We are appealing to the public to open their homes to provide shelter for these evacuees.
“Interested persons can contact NEMA Shelter Coordinator Leonard Cargill at 1 (242) 823-5413.
“We are confident that we will increase our shelter capacity, as we already have local NGO partners who have registered to offer they assistance.”
Cargill, of the Department of Social Services, said on Saturday the temporary housing solutions will be necessary, as many shelters cannot house people in the longer term.
“We definitely had in the beginning a great shortfall in shelters, and what we planned for was to have 29 shelters on [New Providence], and that was short-term sheltering,” he said.
“Those people that approved those shelters and the use of the shelters, they no longer wanted us to use their shelters because they now understand that the people coming in, it will be long-term sheltering. Many of them are church facilities, and they cannot allow that, because it will go on.
“So, I’m pleased that NEMA is going to do the temporary sheltering. When they come in, we process them. We have teams at the sea ports, at the airports. They come in and we try to register everybody and make sure that they are accounted for before they go into the shelters.”
Category 5 Hurricane Dorian hammered Abaco and Grand Bahama early last week, leaving 45 dead so far and widespread devastation in its wake.
Rescue operations, food and water
The Bahamas Water and Sewerage Corporation (WSC) has advised that the water in Marsh Harbour is unsafe for consumption and hygienic use. NEMA said it will continue to provide bottled water in the area. WSC is sending a water purifier to help provide access to safe water.
Smith said that in Grand Bahama, Royal Caribbean is providing 10,000 to 20,000 hot meals each day. NEMA is supplementing them with nonperishable relief supplies. He said people from the community have been donating relief supplies to NEMA for redistribution.
“The island administrator is to get food and water for approximately 500 persons who are on Moore’s Island in the Abacos,” he said.
“Hands for Hunger and World Central Kitchen will distribute 2,000 hot meals to persons in Little Abaco starting tomorrow.”
He added, “The Royal Bahamas Defence Force is delivering food, water…to Coopers Town, North Abaco.
“The World Food Program and Samaritan’s Purse are distributing 12,000 MREs, ready-to-eat meals, to 1,000 families in Marsh Harbour.”
On Saturday, Russell said that although NEMA had sufficient food, delivery was still a challenge in parts of Abaco.
“NEMA has coordinated efforts locally, regionally and internationally to ensure that specifically the inaccessible areas are receiving food by helicopter drops courtesy of the U.S. coast guard and other partners,” he said.
“At this time, NEMA has sufficient food in Abaco, although delivery of food to communities in need is still a challenge.
“NEMA is working with partners to ensure a consistent supply of food and water reaches all communities in Abaco.
“North Abaco in particular has been a challenge accessing. However, with British helicopter support, we are able to get the much-needed supplies into North Abaco and some of the cays this afternoon.”
Both Outten-Moncur and Clarke said the impact of the storm on local workers has hampered the relief efforts, but more workers are being sent to offer relief.
“As you know, the NEMA staff operations In Grand Bahama, the staff has been working under severe and stressful conditions,” said Clarke.
“We had an opportunity to speak to the island administrator in Grand Bahama yesterday, and he was giving his daily report, and he conveyed that his possessions consist now of the pants he had on and the shirt he was wearing, and he was in that position from last Friday.
“And under those stressful conditions, they have continued to try and do their best to service the operation in Grand Bahama. We will provide for them relief this week and we will strengthen the operation in the north.
“You have our full assurance that that will commence very shortly on Monday. Because of the extent of the storm, most of the vehicles in Grand Bahama, most of the government-serviced vehicles, have been damaged.
“As a result, that has made getting around Grand Bahama challenging. The Ministry of Works and other government agencies will be deploying vehicles for their support staff, so that they can go on and regular government functions can continue.”
He added, “We see reports on social media, and I will tell you, in this place, in these NEMA offices, you have Bahamians that are working 15, 16, 17 hours a day since the storm passed. They are working along with the international NGOs to make sure that people find the best solution for an event where the extent of the catastrophe, to say that it was epic was putting it mildly.
“Our international partners have shared that with us, and we will continue with your help. Our local partners, we want to say thank you to them, and we want to say that this is a national catastrophe and we should all be gearing our hearts and our minds to work together for working solutions.”
One hundred and nineteen defense force officers arrived from Trinidad and Tobago yesterday with their Minister of National Security Stuart Young to join the recovery and relief efforts in Abaco and Grand Bahama.