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THE WEEK IN REVIEW IN THE BAHAMAS BY ELCOTT COLEBY

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colebyTHIS WEEK IN THE BAHAMAS (3 – 8 OCTOBER 2016)
COMMENTARY BY ELCOTT COLEBY 

THE HURRICANE MATTHEW DOSSIER

An Overview:

Matthew dominated the news headlines this week in The Bahamas and I dare say news in most of Florida. Reaching speeds up to 145 miles per hour and category 4 strength , tadalafil this powerful Hurricane was the second catastrophic storm to impact The Bahamas in as many years. Bahamians remember well the havoc and devastation wrought on the southeastern Bahamas by powerful storm Joaquim during October of 2015. As reconstruction and restoration continue to this day, generic cialis the government and people of The Bahamas must now turn their attention to recovery, restoration and reconstruction of the central and northern Bahamas with North Andros, New Providence and Grand Bahama reportedly being hardest hit. The positive message coming out of this dramatic and traumatic hurricane experience as was the case with Joaquim in 2015 was that no lives were lost and to God be the glory. Both Bahamas Prime Minister the Rt. Hon. Perry G. Christie and US President Barack Obama warned their respective citizens to take every precaution and evacuate high risk and flood prone areas where and when instructed because material possessions can always be replaced but lives cannot. 

Matthew’s general path:

As early as Friday, 30th September 2016 Matthew was a projected to be a powerful category 4 hurricane. At 5pm on Friday the center of Matthew was located at latitude 13.5 degrees north and longitude 71.6 degrees west. Hurricane force winds extended 35 miles from the center with tropical force winds extending 195 from the center. At that time the storm was moving in a generally westerly motion at 9 miles per hour. By Saturday night Matthew made a turn to the north, then to the northwest, experiencing a western shift on Sunday after passing over the mountains of eastern Cuba and the west coast of Jamaica. It became less organized and was downgraded to a category 3 hurricane. By Monday evening The Bahamas began to feel the full effects of the category 3 storm with increased forward motion to 12 miles per hour with the eye of the storm passing just west of New Providence as Matthew made its way up the chain of islands impacting every island to some degree. By 2pm on Wednesday, the eye was located some 20 miles northwest of Nassau and was headed toward Grand Bahama as it increased to a category 4 Hurricane before pounding that island during the night and early Thursday morning before Matthew made its way to the east Florida coast. 

The Bahamas Government’s initial response:

An emergency cabinet meeting and press conference were held on Monday at the cabinet meeting to address national preparations for this storm. Presentations of preparedness were delivered by all relevant government agencies from NEMA to BPL. The House of Assembly was in session on Tuesday where Prime Minister Christie again delivered a pre hurricane report and again urged Bahamians to take every precaution and to take this storm very seriously. In the aftermath of the storm the Bahamas cabinet held another emergency meeting at NEMA’s headquarters on Gladstone Road and Prime Minister Christie gave an outline of the government’s financing mechanism in support of its national recovery, restoration and reconstruction efforts in the storm’s aftermath. 

The nation’s chief said the priority was to put exigency orders in place to facilitate the importation of materials by private individuals and entities on a “duty free” basis. Further, the Prime Minister said his government “wanted to establish the principle of financing” and as such his government decided it should “make every effort to isolate the monies being spent as a result of Hurricane Matthew from monies that have to be spent on the country through various ministries. So we are talking to the banks in The Bahamas as we speak about being able to put a special fund in place that will be subscribed to by the banks – a hurricane fund – for a bond issue“ said Mr. Christie. 

As for the size of the government bond issue and the structure and function of the Matthew restoration financing mechanism, the Prime Minister had this to say: 

“We are thinking about anywhere between fifty to a hundred million dollars that you would want in a fund to give the government access to it. We actually with Joaquim took away from ministries and I want to be able to use that as a teachable moment for us because you are hampering the work – day to day – of ministries of the government. Where are trying now to avoid that.” 

Prime Minister Christie revealed that the Minister who will lead this recovery, restoration and reconstruction effort is Labour and National Insurance Minister the Hon. D. Shane Gibson. All assessments from the various family islands impacted by Matthew will be forwarded to Minister Gibson for executive decisions on the allocation of financial resources. 

The aftermath:

Media reports indicated that the islands hardest hit were North Andros, New Providence and Grand Bahama. The westerly shift by Hurricane Matthew effectively spared the southeastern Bahamas from any major damage, but the central and north Bahamas were not so lucky. 

As for New Providence, Misty Gardens, Faith Gardens, Pastel Gardens, the Marshal Road suburb, Saint Andrews Beach, the Yamacraw Beach suburbs and other southern coastal areas were hardest hit by Matthew with flooding exceeding six feet in some instances, prompting some residents to move to their attics for safety. It was reported that the Royal Bahamas Police Force, the Royal Bahamas Defense Force and NEMA rescued more than four hundred persons negatively impacted by flooding in those areas and other areas. 

The downtown building that houses the Cabinet Office and the Ministry of National Security sustained extensive structural damage and personnel will have to be relocated sooner than later. Prime Minister Christie told reporters that he has requested the contractor to accelerate the construction of the new National Security building located on John F. Kennedy Drive immediately west of the Ministry of Legal Affairs and the Office of the Attorney General. In the meantime, the Prime Minister suggested that staff could be temporarily relocated to the UBS offshore bank building on East Bay Street.   

Cable and internet services were still down in major parts of New Providence by Saturday. 

There were reports of damage to the main fuel import jetty at Clifton Pier but oil companies reported adequate fuel inventories even though several service stations ran out of fuel and some remained closed due to structural damage sustained. 

Bandits took the opportunity of the storm to burglarize the Sandilands Primary School and stole what Fox Hill MP the Hon. Fred Mitchell estimated to be about $20,000 worth of computers from the school’s computer lab. This theft is under active police investigation.   

In the end, downed trees that downed high power lines proved to be a major challenge for all. 

All airports in The Bahamas were declared open by Saturday morning by the Department of Civil Aviation in conjunction with the Airport Authority. An electrical short in the international section of the Grand Bahama International Airport however prevented that airport from receiving international flights on Saturday because baggage could not be screened as per TSA and US Federal regulations but otherwise the airport was deemed safe for normal operations. 

The general description in Grand Bahama was total devastation. The Minister for Grand Bahama affairs Dr. Michael Darville said this was the worst storm he had ever experienced, including Hurricane Jeane, Frances and Wilma that severely impacted Grand Bahama in 2004 and 2005. There were reports of many downed electricity poles, downed power lines, and many homes were either partially or completely destroyed creating a serious need for temporary housing. 

Not much damage was reported preliminarily from Eleuthera, with mostly scattered debris, downed power lines at the Glass Window Bridge and in Hatchet Bay being reported. The Bahamas Methodist Habitat, an outreach ministry of the Methodist church had sprung fully into action, repairing damaged homes and assisting with general clean up on that island. The Ministry of Works personnel were also in action clearing debris from the streets. 

Deputy Prime Minister the Hon. Philip Brave Davis airlifted supplies to Central and North Andros to assist with recovery efforts there, an area particularly hard hit. 

The Ministry of Tourism conducted assessment of hotel properties, beaches and other tourism sites and reported that the cruise port in Nassau opened at 6am on Friday, 7th October 2016. As for the family islands, several resorts on Exuma reported minor damage; there were no reports of major damages to Long Island properties and the government owned Light House Yacht Club in central Andros suffered severe structural damage. The RIU Resort on Paradise Island was damaged on several floors. No damages were reported by hotel properties in New Providence. Tourists visiting Abaco stayed at a hurricane shelter on Man-O-War Cay and 40 Chinese workers stayed in a Cooper’s Town shelter. Tourism officials reported that over 3, 000 visitors in New Providence, 74 in Grand Bahama and 228 throughout the family islands are all accounted for unhurt. 

Bahamian students studying in Jamaica

The Bahamian students who were chartered home from Jamaica ahead of the storm were scheduled to return to Kingston Jamaica via Bahamasair charter on Sunday,9th October 2016 at 9am. Students were requested to be at the airport no later than 6am. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs was responsible for processing the flight’s manifest and requested all students to submit their names, date of birth and passport number to the ministry at email sharonhaylock@bahamas.gov.bs or at number 1-242-376-1807. 

The writer’s observation and principle take away from this hurricane experience is this: while public and private properties were damaged and some extensively at great personal expense and personal inconvenience to some, there was no loss of life; this compares to over 800 reported deaths in Haiti and 15 in Florida. Additionally, God spared the tourism plant and infrastructure in the main, the lifeblood of the country. THIS GLARING FACT MUST NOT BE UNDERSTATED OR OVERLOOKED IN OUR NATIONAL COMMENTARY AND POST-MORTEM OF THIS HURRICANE EXPERIENCE! The main Nassau cruise ship port was opened for business on Friday and all airports nationally were opened for normal operations by Saturday. The more than 3,000 tourist visiting out shores were accounted for after the storm and several small family island resorts reported minor structural damage. TO GOD THEN BE THE GLORY FOR GREAT THINGS HE HAS DONE. FOR ALL OF ITS FAULTS AND SHORTCOMINGS, THE BAHAMAS IS STILL A BLEST NATION AND HIGHLY FAVOURED. 

In Passing

National Hero’s Day state recognized ceremony, scheduled for Monday, has been postponed for a later date. Activities will still be held in Fox Hill and in other communities to pay tribute to those who helped to build this country. 

A highly specialized team from the Caribbean emergency management agency, CADEMA, has been deployed to The Bahamas on Saturday to assist our local agency NEMA and family island administrators in the 22 districts with post hurricane assessments in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew. This team is expected to complete its assessment in three days. 

The Department of Public Health advised that in an effort to reduce the load at the Accident and Emergency Department at the Princess Margaret Hospital, the Elizabeth Estates, Flamingo Gardens, Fleming Street and the Gambier Clinics will be opened from 9am to 9pm starting Sunday 9th October 2016. 

The Ministry of the Environment and Housing has resumed fogging to arrest the spread of mosquito borne diseases such as Zika. The fogging was suspended due to the hurricane and rain showers. Misty Gardens and the Marshall Road ares are considered a priority. 

Royal Star Insurance Company has announced that it will be opened on Monday, 10th October 2016 between 9am and 5pm to process insurance claims. 

The Collins Ave. and Carmichael offices of NUA Insurance and Brokers Limited will be opened on Monday, 10th October from 9am to 5pm to receive hurricane related claims only. Full business services will resume on Tuesday, 11th October. 

The Nassau Office of Insurance Management will be opened on Monday, 10th October 2016 for the purposes of receiving hurricane related insurance claims. 

The Central Bank of The Bahamas will resume normal operations as soon as possible and as such, al staff members are requested to report to work on Tuesday at their usual scheduled times. 

APD reported that its Arawak Cay container port and Gladstone Road storage facilities sustained minimal damage and will be opened for business during the holiday weekend. Normal business hours will resume on Tuesday, 11th October 2016.