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Breaking News:

Govt to provide for mandatory evacuations

  • Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis speaks with the media inside the Executive Flight Support building. AHVIA J. CAMPBELL

Guardian Senior Reporter

Published: Sep 11, 2017

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After hundreds of Bahamians failed to heed the government’s plea to evacuate the southern Bahamas ahead of Hurricane Irma, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis said yesterday his administration intends to table a mandatory evacuation bill when the House of Assembly meets on Wednesday.

Irma hit the southern Bahamas as a Category 5 storm on Thursday, roaring across Mayaguana, Inagua, Crooked Island, Acklins and Long Cay.

Other islands impacted significantly by the storm were Ragged Island and Bimini.

Last Tuesday, Minnis warned residents not to be foolish and brave the storm, but to evacuate to New Providence.

Over 1,000 people were evacuated from the southern Bahamas on Wednesday, but a little over 300 stayed behind.

Minnis said yesterday that Attorney General Carl Bethel and his team at the Office of the Attorney General were working on the bill.

“I think it is essential that we have a mandatory evacuation [law],” Minnis said.

“Not only that, we must have a manual for evacuations so that we will have guidelines.

“A storm may be a Category 1 or 2, and that may not be a requirement for evacuation. But we would look and a requirement may be a Category 4 or 5. Those are the things that have to be discussed.

“But you must have a manual so that you don’t cherry pick. We’ve learned quite a bit from this procedure; so therefore our manual will tell us how individuals are dispatched, collected and how the centers are set up.

“I think this was a very great learning experience.”

National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) Director Captain Stephen Russell said Ragged Island and Acklins appear to be among those islands hardest hit.

Although there were no reports of injuries or deaths due to the storm, Russell said he must pray for those people who decided to stay behind.

“We all have choices,” said Russell at a press conference at NEMA’s headquarters on Gladstone Road on Saturday.

“They know what may be a possible outcome of their choices, possible death. They are putting their lives at risk.

“I would continue to pray for those who choose to go contrary to what is requested. I would pray for them. That’s me.

“If you choose to remain in harm’s way, that is your choice. If, God forbid, something to the contrary had happened, we would have to go and bury you somehow. That’s a fact. We are living in an area prone to disasters. These storms are coming on an annual basis.

“We cannot take it lightly. We made some bold decisions this year that we would evacuate our people.”

Ahead of Hurricane Matthew last year, then Prime Minister Perry Christie urged residents who live in low-lying areas to evacuate.

Christie later suggested — as he had done in the past — that mandatory evacuations were needed.

Speaking to the issue, Minnis, who was opposition leader at the time, said a Free National Movement government would implement mandatory evacuations.

“The FNM is more concerned with safety and quality of life, and we would do whatever is necessary to ensure that the Bahamians are safe and lives are safe,” Minnis said.

While touring Grand Bahama after Hurricane Sandy in 2012, Prime Minister Christie also said it was time to consider mandatory evacuations.

He noted at the time that the government’s hands were tied, and it can do nothing when people refuse to leave after they have been advised to evacuate.

The issue of mandatory evacuations came up again as Irma became a growing threat to The Bahamas last week.

While reports of the storm’s damage have emerged on social media, authorities have not yet conducted an official post-storm assessment.

Minnis, along with members of his Cabinet, National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) officials and others were scheduled to fly out yesterday to visit the southern islands, but that trip was postponed to today due to strong tropical storm force winds.



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