Electricity has been restored to most areas of Grand Bahama, Disaster Reconstruction Authority Managing Director Katherine Forbes-Smith said yesterday, and as work continues to fully restore power to Grand Bahama and Abaco, 750 solar street lights will also be installed on both islands.
She made the announcement during a Clinton Foundation CGI Action Network on Post-Disaster Recovery panel discussion in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
“The Grand Bahama Power Company, under the leadership of Dave McGregor, prior to Hurricane Dorian, the power company had 19,000 customers,” Forbes-Smith said.
“To date, about 18,000 customers have been restored [with] power. Most of the persons still without power in Grand Bahama is East Grand Bahama, where we had quite a bit of the devastation.
“As far as power is concerned, the power has been restored to certain sections of Abaco. Central Abaco is a big problem because a lot of destruction of homes happened in that central Abaco area as well.
“I know we are getting a donation of about 750 solar street lights that will be in the country in a matter of days, which is a donation from Food for the Poor and also Mission Resolve Foundation, and we thank them for that because what we found is…some of the streets are really dark.
“It’s dangerous, and so through the authority we’re going to be able to put up 750 solar street lights not just in Abaco and the cays but also for Grand Bahama, in the eastern and western area where there are still some very dark spots.”
Hurricane Dorian leveled parts of Abaco and Grand Bahama last September, leaving at least 70 dead and thousands displaced and homeless.
Many in the affected areas expressed frustration over the lack of progress made in cleanup efforts and the restoration of utilities.
Earlier this month, Disaster Reconstruction Authority Chairman John Michael Clarke said that electricity is expected to be fully restored on Abaco by May.
He also acknowledged that restoration efforts must be “more intense” than they have been.
Forbes-Smith noted yesterday that the efforts will take time, but highlighted the authority’s focus on communicating their plans along the way.
Mentioning the town meetings that have been held on Grand Bahama and Abaco, she said that more meetings will be held in the Abaco cays in “another two weeks” and noted that “communication infrastructure has to be different”.
“But this, as I said [and] I continue to say, this is really a long recovery,” Forbes-Smith said.
“It’s not easy, but the work continues.”
Following the launch of the Disaster Reconstruction Authority’s Small Home Repair Programme on Grand Bahama last week and Abaco on Monday, Forbes-Smith also announced that the authority is starting an initiative to assist rental property owners with repairs as well.
In doing so, the authority hopes to encourage more and more people to return to the island, she said.
“My goal for us as an authority, we’re talking to individuals that have rental property in Abaco and also in Grand Bahama, and this is an initiative that we’re just starting, because we recognize that if we want people to come home, they need housing,” Forbes-Smith said.
“If we need contractors to work in Abaco or whatever service someone needs to provide in Abaco, they can’t, there’s nowhere to stay; that’s the bottom line.
“So, what the authority is looking at is we’re taking a view of all of the rental properties that people have in Abaco and we’re starting to look at, ‘What is the situation with those rental properties?’
“‘How can we, through a number of our NGOs, help those rental properties to get fixed so that we can have housing on Abaco?’
“So, that’s a project that we are also looking at right now because we recognize that we need people on the island, but in order to do that, people need places to stay.”
Under the Small Home Repair Programme, residents whose homes were destroyed will be eligible to receive $10,000 in vouchers. Those with major damage will receive $7,500 in vouchers.
Homeowners whose homes suffered medium damage will be eligible for $5,000 in vouchers and those whose homes sustained only minimal damage will be eligible for $2,500 in vouchers.
The program also stipulates that only homes that were uninsured will be eligible, and that only Bahamian homeowners that can provide proof of residence at August 31, 2019, can qualify for the program.
However, Forbes-Smith noted that the program specifically applies only to homeowners and not to small business owners of rental properties.
In terms of prioritizing projects, she highlighted the importance of the authority co-ordinating efforts, so that it does not just work on one project at a time.
“But I don’t look at it as doing anything first, we have to look at everything simultaneously and try to bring everybody back online as best we can, and so, we have to think outside of the box too,” she said.