Grand Bahama News

Hurricane prep lags

Tropical cyclone ‘eye-opener’ for GB

Following two days of torrential rain, resulting in severe flooding of streets, and more than 100 homes across the island, Island Administrator Joseph Ferguson told Grand Bahama News there are still “outstanding issues” that need to be addressed in readying the island for the 2022 Atlantic Hurricane Season.

Two of those concerns are properly equipped shelters and maintenance of storm drains.

“The weather over the weekend was a lesson for us. It was an eye-opener,” said Ferguson. “This was a wet cyclone.”

Tropical Cyclone #1 registered wind gusts of 40 mph, and dumped up to 12 inches of rain on Grand Bahama over 48 hours on June 3 and 4, just after the start of hurricane season on June 1.

Hundreds of scared residents took to social media, posting pictures and videos of flooded roads, and swamped front and backyards.

“I could not come out of my front door,” said Hannah Williams, 56, of Hanna Hill. “The water fully covered my driveway, up to my front door.”

Williams noted that while she was happy to see representatives from the government at her door a day after the rain cleared, she wanted to know about evacuation in the event of a more serious storm.

Ferguson, along with Minister for Grand Bahama Ginger Moxey, Member of Parliament for West Grand Bahama Obie Wilchcombe, Chief Councilor for West Grand Bahama George Smith and other officials toured the affected western communities after the all clear was given.

“They came, asked questions and took information, but I wanted to know about shelters and things like that,” Ferguson said.

“They told me that shelters were open to receive residents and the information was broadcast.”

He confirmed that there was major flooding in West Grand Bahama.

“While the water receded quickly, we are now looking at having the drains cleaned. They needed cleaning,” Ferguson said.

“We note that some of the homes damaged were still being repaired from Hurricane Dorian – roofs and the like. We are moving expeditiously to assist those homeowners.”

Last week, the Grand Bahama Disaster Consultative Committee and the Ministry for Grand Bahama held a meeting with all the stakeholders, including the National Emergency Management Agency, Road Traffic Department, Bahamas Telecommunications Company, Aliv, the Grand Bahama Red Cross and the Department of Social Services, in preparation for the hurricane season.

Ferguson noted that another meeting will be held as early as this week to further review the island’s hurricane shelter list. Presently, there are 18 shelters listed for the island, but not all were open for the cyclone.

“Some of them are not up to standard,” he admitted. “And we need to have them ready and properly equipped with generators, cots and other essentials in the event of a major hurricane.”

Ferguson noted that additional staff is needed to volunteer at the shelters.

“We want to be fully prepared,” he said.

While all the committee’s ‘t’s’ were not crossed nor ‘i’s’ dotted, Ferguson commended the team for its effort during the recent weather disturbance.

“Despite the challenges, the committee worked well,” he said. “However, this was an eye-opener for us to get our act together.”

In a press briefing on May 31, Grand Bahama Port Authority (GBPA) Public Affairs Officer Philcher Grant, who is also Grand Bahama Utility Company’s chief operating officer, said there is a “robust and comprehensive” storm response plan in place for the hurricane season.

“We have learned some hard lessons over the years from many previous storms, including Hurricane Dorian,” Grant said.

Communication – sending information to consumers and receiving feedback – was one of the lessons.

As a result, in the event of a major storm, the GBPA will establish a Universal Call Centre (UCC) where residents will be able to access every department to report their concerns, said Glendia Sweeting, GBPA corporate affairs officer.

“Additionally, we will launch an onsite customer service assistance center where residents can meet and speak one on one with a customer service representative if telephone access is not available,” Sweeting added.

In the event a hurricane is approaching, the location of both centers would be released 48 to 72 hours prior to the storm.

Troy McIntosh, city manager, reported that pre-maintenance drain checks and work – removal of debris and vegetation – were conducted throughout Freeport.

After the press conference and the recent flooding, GB News reached out to McIntosh for a further update on the drainage system.

McIntosh said the weather over the June 3 and 4 weekend was a “significant help” to the GBPA to see how well the existing drainage system performed.

“It showed us where we need to make some improvements,” he said.

“The department received a handful of complaints as a result of flooding. However, those residents were informed that we would reach out to them after the heavy rain stopped.”

He explained that during heavy rainfall, the drains will reach capacity resulting in flooding.

But McIntosh added, it is important for residents to observe the drains after the rain stops to see whether they have performed as expected.

He said the drainage system is maintained after each rainy period. This includes the removal of debris and/or vegetation, he explained.

To date, more than five drainage wells have been either modified or redrilled to improve the existing drainage system. Another 28 will be serviced this week, McIntosh said.

He added that this year, the City Maintenance and Management Section will modify five existing drainage wells with larger catch basins and is expected to install five new drains.

McIntosh did not give a time frame as to when that project will happen.

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