Lewis calls for national hurricane evacuation plan

Minister of State for Disaster Preparedness Iram Lewis yesterday called for the implementation of a national evacuation plan amid the 2020 Atlantic Hurricane Season.

His comments came days after the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) advised the government to consider evacuation plans for Salina Point, Acklins; Spanish Wells, Eleuthera; Grand Bahama and Central Abaco  — both of which were ravaged by Hurricane Dorian nine months ago.

Lewis did not indicate whether the government was considering the implementation of evacuation plans for those areas.

However, he told The Nassau Guardian, “Whenever you go to a hotel or you go to any mass assembly hall, one of the things you see is a diagram of evacuation in the event that there is an emergency — whether it’s fire, it’s any kind of stampede going on in the hotel — you must know where the exits are. You must know how to get out, how to evacuate in the event of danger.

“So, I do believe that around the country, wherever, every island should have an evacuation plan…because you never know when it’s going to hit. We should start looking at it holistically: an evacuation plan for New Providence, Abaco. Where are we going to go? How are we going to get there?

“So, this should be done nationwide. I don’t think that is a reason for anyone to panic. I do believe an evacuation plan should be something that should be considered throughout the country.”

A recent International Organization for Migration (IOM) report recommended that the government create a mass evacuation plan for Grand Bahama and Abaco “in the anticipation of ‘panic’ next time a hurricane warning is raised”.

“A credible mass evacuation plan needs to be compiled,” it noted.

“This may involve transport options owned by the Bahamas government, those owned by Bahamian companies, assets of governments of local nations including the United States, and foreign commercial operators, for example, the U.S. airlines flying to The Bahamas or Royal Caribbean cruise ships. All of this needs to be planned and arranged in advance.”

Yesterday, when asked about the IOM’s report, Lewis replied, “I’m not going to zoom in on the IOM’s report. I need to focus on what we need to do in The Bahamas.”

Dorian — a monster Category 5 storm — destroyed hundreds of buildings and other critical infrastructure in the northern Bahamas in early-September.

The storm revealed many inefficiencies on the islands of Abaco and Grand Bahama, and resulted in the deaths of scores of people.

Some residents of the islands are still trying to piece together their lives in the aftermath of the deadly storm.

More than two weeks into this year’s hurricane season, Lewis said he believes Abaco residents are prepared in case another hurricane makes landfall there.

“Abaconians would be okay,” he said.

“We do not have facilities in Central Abaco. But, again, we have to make a determination as to what part of Abaco would be hit. Remember Central Abaco and Marsh Harbour were devastated.

“The southern part of Abaco wasn’t touched: Sandy Point, Cherokee Sound, Crossing Rocks. The hurricane shelter in Sandy Point received no damage.

“So, yes, Central Abaco – we have to look at an alternative plan while Central Abaco Primary School is being repaired, while the other high school facilities are being repaired.

“But, we have facilities ready to go now in the north and south.”

Lewis noted that hurricane shelters have not been identified for Central Abaco.

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Jasper Ward

Jasper Ward started at The Nassau Guardian in September 2018. Ward covers a wide range of national and social issues. Education: Goldsmiths, University of London, MA in Race, Media and Social Justice

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