Grand Bahama survived Hurricane Nicole largely unscathed last week, experiencing only minor utility hiccups, and some flooding in the usual low-lying areas.
“I lost power, and the water was running low, but other than the heavy wind and rain, I am thankful that we were spared the brunt of the storm,” said Arnisha Smith, a single mother of three, whose Coral Reef Subdivision home was inundated with eight inches of surge during Hurricane Dorian.
Smith, 45, said she was nervous all throughout Nicole.
“I prayed all night as I listened to the winds and rain,” she said.
“It was hard to relive, but I thank God that no lives were lost and there was no major damage. We (Grand Bahamians) have handled a lot and survived, but another hit would be extreme.”
Most Grand Bahama Power Company (GBPC) and Grand Bahama Utility Company (GBUC) customers experienced outages and low water pressure during the peak of the storm.
GBUC’s Chief Operations Officer and Public Affairs Officer for the Grand Bahama Port Authority (GBPA) Philcher Grant-Adderley explained that there were a lot of “hits” on the well fields, which impacted the generators.
The hits – down power lines, trees or vegetation interrupting the power supply – created faults on the company’s Reverse Osmosis (RO) System.
“Our teams started responding at 6 p.m. Wednesday when the winds and rain were picking up,” Grant-Adderley explained.
“The teams went out to see what they could do to find the faults, rectify them and what we could do to resolve the situation.
“We had to decide at that point as to whether the fault being sent back and forth to the RO could damage the system. We didn’t want to put the equipment in a situation where we need it after the storm, and we no longer have it because of the issue we were seeing.”
As a result, a decision was made to take the RO offline.
“However, we had the other plants being able to send water out, but at a lower pressure,” Grant-Adderley said.
She commended the teams that worked from 10 p.m. Wednesday to 5 a.m. Thursday to resolve the issues and ensure customers’ water supply was back online.
“I want to thank my team that left safety, their families and comfort of their homes to go out in the thick of the storm to find and isolate these faults, so that we can clear the faults and safely operate the RO system,” Grant-Adderley said.
“I also want to thank GBPC and their team, because once we were able to find where the faults were in the system, their team joined us at midnight and worked until 4 a.m. to isolate those faults, so we can take that out the system and then run the rest of the well fields into the RO and safely run it without damaging the system.”
Noting that the company’s operating protocol has varying levels of responses for tiers of storms, Grant-Adderley said that for a Category 1 and below, a controlled shutdown of the system is not a part of that procedure.
“That means we continue to produce water services to the island as long as we safely can, without jeopardizing the equipment. However, once we lose city power, we go to backup generation power,” she added.
As of Friday, Grant-Adderley noted that a few pockets of customers at the end of the distribution network were still experiencing low pressure; however, by late that evening, it was anticipated their service should return to pre-storm pressure.
Last week, all the relevant agencies and utilities, including the National Emergency Management Agency, the Emergency Operations Center, GBPC and GBUC quickly mobilized in anticipation of the tropical storm upgrading to a major hurricane.
GBPC’s Director of Communications Cleopatra Russell noted that at the peak of the storm, 10 percent of their customers experienced outages.
“During the initial onset, outages occurred in West Grand Bahama,” Russell said.
“We were able to dispatch crews when there was a break in the weather to address that and bring those customers back up.
“However, during the brunt of the storm, there were outages again. But crews were able to work through late Thursday and into [Friday] and get the vast majority of the customers energized.
“Our teams worked quickly, and our system held up really well.”