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IOM notes GB and Abaco don’t have sufficient shelter capacity

There is not sufficient shelter capacity on Grand Bahama and Abaco for the upcoming hurricane season, a report from the International Organization for Migration concluded.

The report noted that while there was sufficient shelter space on the islands during Hurricane Dorian, many shelters remain damaged from the storm. It also noted that more people on those islands will likely seek space in official shelters due to their experiences during Dorian.

“Current available capacity is likely to fall significantly short of demand, in particular, if there is a major hurricane during the 2020 season whilst some shelters are still being repaired,” it read.

It added, “Our research found that currently 13 of the 25 official shelters are usable, providing capacity for just over 1,500 people, or two percent of the population.”

The report, “Assessment of Preparedness of Emergency Shelters on Grand Bahama and the Abaco Islands for 2020 Hurricane Season”, noted: “Capacity in emergency shelters was sufficient for those who sought it during Dorian.

“However, due to people’s experiences, it is expected that next time there is a hurricane warning there will be a rush to evacuate the islands, regardless of whether that is the official advice, and there will be a far greater demand for emergency shelter.”

Dorian, a Category 5 monster storm, ravaged Abaco and Grand Bahama in September last year.

According to the report, wind damage to shelters was prominent on Abaco, while on Grand Bahama, shelters suffered significant flood damage.

“All of the shelters in central Abaco had their roofs destroyed, with many windows and doors being blown out,” it read. “Shelters in North Abaco and South Abaco generally fared much better with most receiving minor roof and window damage.

“On Grand Bahama, while there was minor roof and window damage, the main issue was flooding caused by the storm surge.

“Eight shelters were badly flooded, and three had to be evacuated mid-storm, with people fleeing for their lives to find alternative shelter. Many of these locations are currently rebuilding and refitting kitchens and toilet facilities, or searching for funds to do so.”

The report noted that some of the official shelters are too small, lack generators and emergency freshwater, adequate sewage treatment facilities, first aid kits, fire extinguishers, flashlights, and sleeping equipment, and are therefore not recommended for long-term use.

It also raised concern over the lack of an official shelter in Marsh Harbour, Abaco.

“On Grand Bahama, much of this was supplied on a just-in-time basis from [the National Emergency Management Agency] NEMA’s warehouse facility in Freeport, but on the Abaco Islands, the shelters were largely left to themselves to manage,” it noted.

“There is currently very little stock of emergency equipment at NEMA’s Freeport warehouse as it has not been replenished. Very little food was supplied at the shelters, with most evacuees being encouraged to bring their own supplies.

“Of particular concern is the central Abaco primary school in Marsh Harbour, the largest shelter on the Abaco Islands, with a capacity of 600, which is currently being slowly rebuilt after catastrophic damage. The school was evacuated during the eye of the hurricane after 25 of its 32 rooms were compromised. The evacuees all moved to the government building and clinic in Marsh Harbour that ended up being the refuge for 2,000 to 3,000 people for the remainder of the storm.

“As a result of the damage to the school, there is no current shelter available in the Marsh Harbour area, and there is still a great deal of debris, which will act as projectiles if a new hurricane passes through the area.”

The report noted that the management of shelters during, and in the aftermath of Dorian, was “patchy”.

“In general, Grand Bahama was well-organised, with each shelter being opened, checked and supplied with emergency equipment before Dorian made landfall, and each shelter having a social services shelter manager, who managed registration and communication with the evacuees,” it noted.

“For each shelter, the defense force was in attendance to ensure security and protection, and representatives of the school or church were in a supporting role.

“On the Abaco Islands, very little equipment or supplies were provided. While Central Abaco primary school was excellently managed by a very experienced Red Cross volunteer, many shelters on the Abaco islands had no nominated shelter manager, no defense force, no medics, no registration process, and were left to fend for themselves.”

The report noted that while officials on the islands know what must happen to prepare for the 2020 hurricane season, they lack resources and funding.

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Rachel Knowles

Rachel joined The Nassau Guardian in January 2019. Rachel covers national issues. Education: University of Virginia in Charlottesville, BA in Foreign Affairs and Spanish

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