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Inagua residents who stayed behind in storm say no regrets

  • Minister of Labour Dion Foulkes (right) greets Inagua resident Arthur Pritchard yesterday. Pritchard rode out Hurricane Irma in Inagua.

ROYSTON JONES JR.
Guardian Senior Reporter
royston@nasguard.com

Published: Sep 14, 2017

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Arthur Pritchard, 62, contemplated the government’s warning to evacuate Inagua ahead of what was predicted to be the strongest hurricane to impact the southern islands on record, but yesterday the Matthew Town resident said he does not regret riding out the storm on the island.

Hurricane Irma impacted Inagua on Thursday with over 180-mile-per-hour winds.

Pritchard’s home on Nesbit Street sustained damage to the roof, windows and front door, which he said flew off during the storm.

But his resolve remained intact even as strong winds rushed into the home.

“It wasn’t as [bad] as the people said it was,” said Pritchard, as he sat in front of St. Philip's Community Center.

“We had 180-mile-per-hour winds, so that was a lot of wind.

“But, I trust God and I said whatever happens here could happen anywhere, so, I just stayed.”

Matthew Town, the only settlement in Great Inagua, was spared the brunt of the storm.

Many of the homes sustained some degree of roof damage.

This was also the case with the Inagua All Age School.

Several hundred residents evacuated the island last week Wednesday.

Dozens of them who were accommodated at the New Providence Community Centre (NPCC) travelled back to Inagua yesterday, eager to return home.

On the returning flight was Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis, members of his Cabinet, Exuma and Ragged Island MP Chester Cooper and National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) officials.

Passengers clapped as the Bahamasair aircraft touched down at the Inagua airport.

Francita Lightbourne said she decided to remain on the island because of her mother, 72, who refused to abandon their home.

When the winds began lashing the house on Thursday evening, Lightbourne contemplated whether she had made the right decision.

“Through it all, I hardly slept, but my mother slept straight through it,” she said before greeting returning residents.

“With every little noise, I went and checked.

“But, she (her mother) said 'relax and go to bed'.

“Other than that, everything went smoothly. I’m glad I stayed.

“First of all, my mummy did not want to leave and I didn’t want to leave her.

“We just celebrated her birthday the week before.

“Everyone was home to celebrate her birthday and she said she was not leaving.”

Some shingles were stripped off the roof, but the house had minimal damage.

Lightbourne, a sales clerk at Morton Salt, said she was pleased residents were returning to the community as the island has been “kind of quiet”.

Colin Ingraham was also among the residents who remained behind.

He said the decision was easy: He wanted to be in a position to assist people upon Irma’s passage.

“I used to work for the water plant and they asked me to manage it until they get back,” Ingraham said.

“They asked me if I was going and I said no.

“We were able to get water up and running to all communities yesterday (Tuesday).

“Morton has cleaned up all the debris from the main streets so we can get back and forth.”

Ingraham said as Irma descended over the island, shingles popped off the roof.

He likened the sound to gunshots.

At one point water came inside the building.

But the fisherman, his wife, daughter, son and mother-in-law are happy they stayed, he said.

“We just thank God no one got hurt and there was no loss of life,” said Ingraham, who plans to continue to weather storms on Inagua, noting that islanders are “resilient and strong people of faith”.

 

Morton

A large portion of Morton Salt’s maintenance building has been exposed.

A pile of wooden beams, shingles and debris lay in front of the building.

Senior Director of Mining and Manufacturing Jean-Baptiste Dromer said the company’s first priority is the safety and well-being of its employees and residents in Inagua.

However, the operation has come to a halt as the company assesses the damage.

Repairs are underway to the roof of the maintenance building and other structures.

“Hurricane Irma cannot destroy the unstoppable sprit of Inagua and Morton Bahamas,” Dromer said.

“We are still performing an operation assessment of the damage as we speak.

“It’s too early to say all the damage we suffered.”

Morton Salt’s first major shipment to the island brought supplies, including food, to aid in the recovery.

 

One people

Speaking to the media at Lynden Pindling International Airport, the prime minister said the government will do what is necessary to repair the homes on Inagua, noting that the damage was minimal.

“I hope that everyone has learnt a lesson from what has happened and that is if we work together as a team and remain together as a team, one people, one Bahamas, one Bahamian, then we can overcome any obstacle,” Minnis said.

“Hurricane Irma...was one of the greatest challenges that we have faced and I think we have overcome, and we will be better prepared for others as they approach.”

Several residents also returned to Mayaguana yesterday, which was spared any major damage.

The prime minister and his team also visited that island yesterday.

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