Minster of State for Disaster Preparedness, Management and Reconstruction Iram Lewis said on Sunday that national hurricane preparations are being fine-tuned after being delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Speaking at a press conference hosted by the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), which now falls under his ministry, Lewis said, “We have studied the lessons of [Hurricane] Dorian and note that strengthening our systems and making them more resilient are key components of the policy efforts that are being led by my ministry.
“[T]he COVID-19 pandemic, and necessary emergency measures implemented by the government to suppress the spread of the coronavirus and save lives, have understandably slowed national preparation efforts for this hurricane season.
“With the recently announced phased opening up of the country, we are now able to fine tune our preparations and get back to full-paced planning and implementation efforts.”
Over the course of the conference, which featured representatives from government and private organizations, it was outlined that hurricane preparedness plans being undertaken include: refining emergency evacuation plans; inspecting shelters across the country; rolling out a shelter plan to determine which shelters may be used depending on the conditions expected; preparing for 16 shelters on Grand Bahama and an additional four on Abaco in the upcoming weeks; and seeking international NGO assistance in sourcing heavy-duty equipment for emergency rescues on land or in water.
On the Family Islands, 23 administrative districts “are in a state of readiness”, with shelters already having been identified, according to Acting Director in the Department of Local Government Brenda Colebrooke.
The Department of Public Works, Bahamas Power and Light, The Bahamas Telecommunications Company and Aliv noted their efforts to improve infrastructure ahead of the season; while the Water and Sewerage Corporation outlined the “phased approach” being undertaken by staff who will travel throughout the country to prepare, and the Royal Bahamas Police Force noted that it is in the process of making upgrades and repairs to equipment and infrastructure on every island.
Bahamas Department of Meteorology Director Trevor Basden cautioned that between 16 and 18 named storms are expected, with eight or nine of those becoming hurricanes and four becoming major hurricanes of Category 3 strength or higher this season.
The season officially started yesterday and will last until November 30.
Basden also said that The Bahamas is “the hurricane capital of the Atlantic basin”, noting that the Northwest Bahamas and especially Abaco – which were the hardest hit during Hurricane Dorian in September – are more susceptible to storms.
But officials sought to assure that special attention is being paid to preparations for the still-recovering Grand Bahama and Abaco.
NEMA Director Captain Stephen Russell said the primary focus is getting shelters ready on those two islands in the coming weeks, and that in the event a disaster strikes “within a short space of time”, NEMA’s main priority would be to evacuate those who are particularly vulnerable.
“In reference to preparation in Abaco and the cays, and Grand Bahama, in particular, we know going into this season, one of our main challenges is adequate shelters for persons who may need to go to shelters,” he said.
“[On] Grand Bahama alone, in excess of 16 or more churches would have served as our shelters, [so] we’re now trying to see how we could assist those structures in getting up and ready for the upcoming hurricane season.
“As we go into the week ahead, we’re going to direct some funding to those churches that have served as shelters, and likewise with our Disaster Reconstruction Authority (DRA) in the islands, we’re going to find the appropriate work crews to tackle those churches that can be up and ready as quickly as possible.”
Lewis added, “In Grand Bahama, we are seeking to engage some 16 contractors this week to ensure that the schools in Grand Bahama are also ready to act as hurricane shelters.
“We have four churches in Abaco that have offered their facilities to act as shelters, and we’re seeking to partner with them to ensure that those facilities are hardened and ready to go.
“Today, if we are faced with an emergency situation, we do have shelters on Abaco and in Grand Bahama ready to go to accommodate evacuees.”