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Russell: Evacuees may have nothing left to return to

  • Evacuees from Inagua disembark a Bahamasair plane after arriving at Lynden Pindling International Airport in New Providence on Wednesday.

Guardian Senior Reporter

Published: Sep 08, 2017

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For the more than 1,200 residents who evacuated the southern islands of The Bahamas ahead of Hurricane Irma, there may be nothing left to return to, National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) Director Captain Stephen Russell said yesterday.

“You can almost expect devastation, catastrophic damage, from a Category 5 [storm] across the islands and there may be nothing remaining to go to,” he said during a press conference yesterday morning.

“As soon as all is clear we are going to try as best we can to do some rapid assessments, get into those areas, and see what is standing.”

Irma was expected to impact the southern islands beginning yesterday afternoon.

The dangerous Category 5 storm has left a trail of devastation in the Leeward Islands, claiming at least a dozen lives.

At last report, Irma was expected to impact New Providence this afternoon.

It has sustained winds of over 175 miles per hour.

Russell said Irma is expected to cause similar or greater damage to the southern islands than Hurricane Joaquin, which leveled hundreds of homes and caused several feet of flooding in October 2015.

Voluntary evacuations have been made from Inagua, Mayaguana, Crooked Island, and Ragged Island via aircraft.

However, fewer than 200 people remained in Inagua, 100 in Acklins and 70 in Mayaguana.

These residents will be facing Irma without local government support and emergency services.

All nurses and island administrators have been evacuated from these islands.

The government warned residents on Tuesday to leave.

Russell advised residents who have remained behind to stay in communication as best they can.

He strongly urged them not to be alone and to avoid taking any unnecessary risks.

Emergency flights will be unavailable until the all clear is given, which is expected by Monday.

“We are really praying they find somewhere safe for those who choose to remain in those areas,” Russell said.

“...From Thursday to probably even Tuesday we may not be able to respond to the islands that would have been impacted because you have to wait until we get the all clear from the airport here, Lynden Pindling International Airport, to make sure the airstrips in these islands are clear to allow emergency flights to come. We also have to make sure the harbors are clear for shipping to come into ports to offload relief material.”

Russell added that officials are “really praying” for more than 300 residents who have decided against evacuating.

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