A reconstruction overview: One year after Hurricane Dorian and still committed

Since the inception of the Disaster Reconstruction Authority (DRA) in December 2019, the DRA has been working tirelessly with other stakeholders and non-profit organizations (NGO) to not only assess the magnitude of the devastation left in the wake of Hurricane Dorian on Grand Bahama and the islands of Abaco and its cays, but also to help guide the process of rebuilding better and more resilient than before.

According to Minister of State for Disaster Preparedness, Management and Reconstruction Iram Lewis, “We knew that part of the process would be reconstruction, but the other half of the work is to make our islands more resilient and ready for the next disaster.”

When the work of the DRA started 10 months ago, there was a need to address the priorities most affecting the communities. Before the work began in earnest, a number of town meetings to determine what the residents of Abaco and Grand Bahama felt their most urgent requirements were, had to take place.

“We knew the impact of Dorian would be a journey and not a sprint.”

The DRA has established seven priorities around the work of the authority: environment, economy, education, health, housing, infrastructure and system improvements.

The DRA has established 14 critical projects expected to be addressed during this fiscal period.

Projects in progress: Small Home Repair Program, Abaco and Grand Bahama; debris collection, Abaco and Grand Bahama; debris management sites (marine & salvage operations), Abaco and Grand Bahama; construction of temporary domes & modular housing – Abaco and Grand Bahama; planning for the comprehensive schools – High Rock, Grand Bahama, and Treasure Cay, Abaco; construction of semi-permanent homes for public officers and teachers – 100 units, Spring City, Abaco; construction of semi-permanent homes for East End Grand Bahama; and Treasure Cay airport redevelopment.

Projects in planning: development of two 60-acre subdivisions – Spring City and Wilson City, Abaco; community center/hurricane shelters – Grand Bahama and Abaco; permanent housing – 53 lots in Central Pines, Abaco; Marsh Harbour police and fire station, reconstruction of Abaco port facilities, Marsh Harbour; and Snake Cay landfill redevelopment.Thirty million-plus dollars was spent to date on the management of debris sites and community cleanup from the disaster zones on both Grand Bahama and Abaco and its cays. The entire $30 million was spent with local Bahamians, keeping money in the Bahamian economy.

“We are proud to say that all disaster zones in terms of cleanup has come a mighty long way and we expect, as more residents continue to return to rebuild, the work has to continue. It is anticipated that the normal municipal waste collection and further debris removal will soon be managed by the local stakeholders in each community.”

As of August 30, 2020, 4,335 homeowners have registered for assistance through the Small Home Repair Program. Of that, 3,166 were approved to date and $10 million has been allocated so far for the program (Abaco, 30 percent; Grand Bahama, 70 percent). Also, 210 temporary domes were deployed in conjunction with the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) throughout the affected areas (170, Abaco; 40, Grand Bahama). With a generous donation from the Mediterranean Shipping Company Foundation, 20 container homes are currently being constructed for families in Sweetings Cay whose homes were completely destroyed.

The DRA has identified property for the construction of 100 modular homes to be erected in Spring City, Abaco. It is expected that construction begins in September 2020. These modular units are meant to replace the 100 recreational vehicles (RVs) presently at the Government Complex and will house the teachers and public servants.

Two 60-acre lots have been conveyed to the DRA for the development of two subdivisions in Spring City and Wilson City. The DRA will hold virtual meetings in the coming weeks with local government and town planning, the chamber of commerce, residents and all other stakeholders for the long-term development and reconstruction of these properties.

Having regard for the lack of structures designed specifically to handle serious hurricanes, two community centers/hurricane shelters will be constructed in Central Pines, Abaco, and Grand Bahama during this fiscal period.

DRA Managing Director Kay Smith stressed “how important it is for children to feel some semblance of normalcy in their lives and education and going to school is a big part of that process”.

Of the 31 schools affected in the disaster zones, 25 schools will reopen this school year. Four schools were completely destroyed in East Grand Bahama. According to Ministry of Education officials, Treasure Cay and East Grand Bahama will have a new comprehensive school.

Health is always a concern after a major natural disaster, but the DRA is pleased to report that 100 percent of all medical facilities on Abaco are open and operational. On Grand Bahama, almost $20 million has been allocated for ongoing restoration and renovations to Rand Memorial Hospital. The Public Hospitals Authority and the Grand Bahama Health Services are currently planning the expansion/construction of a new hospital facility. The DRA is providing technical assistance through a grant for a risk assessment for this very critical project.

The DRA said its partners at Bahamas Power and Light, Grand Bahama Power Company, Grand Bahama Utility Company, Water and Sewerage, Aliv and BTC all deserve to be commended, as progress has been made to restore services to the northern islands. The authority does recognize there are pockets of individuals with unique circumstances that prevent some of the utility companies from restoring service, and this is being addressed on a case-by-case basis.

“Enough cannot be said about the NGOs who descended on The Bahamas and helped our country through this monstrous storm and its impact. Many came during the early relief period and some have stayed during the reconstruction. We are grateful for the outstanding support of the international community, local Bahamian NGOs, churches, private individuals and our corporate community for their continued work, love and support,” said Smith.

DRA Chairman John-Michael Clarke said, “The work of reconstruction is not necessarily quick, but every day some progress is being made, and we are on our way to building more resilient communities in Abaco and Grand Bahama.”

It has been a long road with several challenges along the way, but the DRA is committed and dedicated to the work ahead in the disaster zones. The work not only supports those who are currently rebuilding; but prepares the country to face each disaster with greater resilience.

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