NEARLY 11 months after Hurricane Dorian, people were still living in a hurricane shelter in New Providence, according to the director of Social Services, Lillian Quant-Forbes – although that shelter was due to close yesterday.
Hurricane Dorian changed the lives of many Bahamians for ever when it struck on September 2 last year, packing winds of up to 250mph, and causing millions in damages.
“We have one shelter still open and that shelter has six persons who will be moved from that shelter by the end of today (Wednesday),” said Ms Quant-Forbes. “So one shelter in New Providence only. There are no open shelters on the other islands. My staff at the Department of Social Services and our volunteers have been working. As a matter of fact, we have still been working with dealing with the shelter from Hurricane Dorian and wrapping that up.”
There are currently 20 Hurricane Shelters on New Providence and 115 on the Family Islands. National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) held a press conference via Zoom yesterday to urge Bahamians to prepare themselves for a system that might hit the southern islands of The Bahamas by this weekend and to give an update about readiness for the hurricane season.
Since March of this year, The Bahamas, like the rest of the world, has been dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, getting people to practice social distancing and proper sanitisation to keep the virus from spreading. Ms Quant-Forbes said COVID-19 prevention protocols, to include social distancing, will still be in place at the shelters and measures should a person present with COVID-19 symptoms.
“What we have had to do is identify the schools which have smaller classrooms, rather than having a large amount of persons in the various gymnasiums,” Ms Quant-Forbes said. “With the classrooms, we have to limit the amount of persons in each classroom. So the social distancing is still in effect for the three to six feet to accommodate persons in a safe zone. The protocol for social distancing will still be in place.
“At each shelter, there will be medical personnel. What we require is that when persons will come into the shelter we aim to see how best we can do temperature checks with them and also to answer the question as it relates to designated spots, yes, a designated spot will be identified at each shelter for persons who present with any symptoms of COVID-19.”
Ms Quant-Forbes announced her team is undergoing training for shelter management and data collection. All data collected will be the property of the Government of The Bahamas, channelled through necessary agencies and accessible to those who require it.
Shelters in some of the Abaco cays were noticeably missing from an official list of shelters. Asked about where will those residents go should a storm hit the area, Minister of Disaster Preparedness Management and Reconstruction Iram Lewis said a meeting will take place in Abaco today after which a report will be made to his ministry.
He said: “There is a meeting on Abaco tomorrow (Thursday) led by the administrator and upon presentation of her report to us (Disaster Reconstruction Authority), we will know what areas we need to ramp up to ensure all of the cays are covered. We don’t expect any evacuation from island to island, however, this is a part of the outer section of the communities to inland or in structures that would have been compromised.
“We would expect to move those persons to safe structures. So once again, the updated list will be provided after the meeting in Abaco and the administrator will subsequently have reports from the various Abaco cays.”
Trevor Basden, chief meteorological officer, warned Bahamians to always be prepared when a storm is near, but was hopeful that the looming storm moves more to the west as at 5am Wednesday, it was no longer in the tracking cone. “Do not drop your guard,” Mr Basden warned. “At 5am Wednesday, the track itself is moving more to the west and so The Bahamas itself is not in the cone. Do not drop your guard because a cyclone is not a point, it is vast. At 8am Wednesday, the track has it to now move just slightly to the west of Puerto Rico and then over Hispaniola but mainly Dominican Republic. They are high mountainous areas so that in itself is a blessing for us. Based on this position we would look rather favourable.”
At the time of the press conference, the storm was about 1,210 miles to the south east of New Providence. Mr Basden said It is moving very rapidly at 23mph and this general motion is expected with some slight decrease in forward speed likely. He said the south-east Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands, should receive a warning later on Wednesday.
The Royal Bahamas Police Force and the Royal Bahamas Defence Force, both present at the press conference, are set to go into motion as early as today in preparation for the looming storm.
A Tropical Storm Watch for the south-east Bahamas includes the islands of Inagua, Mayaguana, Crooked Island, Acklins, Ragged Island, Long Cay and Summana Cay and also a watch for the Turks and Caicos. Tropical storm force winds likely within 48 hours. As it steers towards us in a westerly direction, localised flooding can be expected. Mr Basden said: “You are looking at one to three inches, but some accumulations and pockets, six to eight inches.”