Communication to Parliament by
Rt. Hon. Hubert A. IngrahamPrime Minister
OnHurricane Ike Recovery Efforts
September 17, 2008
Mr. Speaker,I make this communication today so that Honourable Members may be formally advised on the damage resulting from the passage of Hurricane Ike and on efforts to extend emergency assistance and to commence recovery and reconstruction in affected areas.Honourable Members will recall that the hurricane affected the southeastern Bahamas – that is, Acklins, Mayaguana, Crooked Island and Ragged Island with tropical storm conditions between 6-7 September, and the island of Inagua with hurricane conditions. Inagua, over which the eye of the hurricane passed, experienced the full brunt of the storm at its greatest strength as a Category 4 hurricane packing winds of up to 135 miles per hour.
Honourable Members are advised that the Emergency Operation Center (E.O.C.) of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) was under partial activation since mid-August in connection with the passage of Tropical Storm Fay which traversed The Bahamas on 16th August. That storm was followed by Tropical Storm Hanna which exited The Bahamas passing east of the Central and North Western Bahamas on Thursday, 4th September, 2008.Members will be aware that the primary tasks of the EOC is to track and monitor tropical cyclone activity as it approaches and transits The Bahamas, to collect all incoming information relating to the potential effects of storms and hurricanes and to assist in keeping Bahamians and residents informed with regard to preparedness and response initiatives related thereto. On that same day that Hanna exited The Bahamas the Department of Meteorology issued a news item advising the public that Hurricane Ike was located 950 miles east of the Turks and Caicos Islands and Mayaguana, had maximum sustained winds of 140 miles per hour with higher gust and was moving generally in a westerly direction toward The Bahamas. Hurricane Ike was an extremely dangerous category four hurricane. The potential for damage in The Bahamas was especially great given that all of our islands had just been impacted by Tropical Storm Hanna. Indeed, winds and rain from Tropical Storm Hanna resulted in power outages in Inagua, Ragged Island, Cat Island, and Eleuthera, including Harbour Island, and Grand Bahama, for varying periods of time. Additionally, Hanna brought localized flooding to parts of Abaco and Grand Bahama. Memories of the damaging floods resulting from Tropical Storm Noel less than a year ago caused all to be especially alert to the potential dangers that lay ahead.Thankfully, electricity had been restored to all portions of The Bahamas prior to the arrival of Hurricane Ike.
Government-operated schools throughout The Bahamas had been closed on Thursday and Friday the 28-29th August in connection with Tropical Strom Hanna. School closings were aimed to keep our children out of the inclement weather and also facilitated the use of some schools as designated storm shelters should that have become necessary.
As Hurricane Ike was not expected to arrive in The Bahamas before Saturday 6th September, students enjoyed a regular full schedule during the first week of September. Then, in anticipation of the arrival of Hurricane Ike shelters were activated over the weekend on Acklins, Andros, Crooked Island, Inagua, Long Cay, Long Island, Mayaguana and Ragged Island. A total of 555 persons relocated to shelters. Of this number 515 persons were accommodated in government approved shelters. Another 40 individuals, all in Mayaguana, were located in residences classified as “safe houses”.
It is to be noted that all shelters were deactivated by Monday 8 September with the exception of St. Philip’s Community Center in Inagua which up to yesterday – Tuesday 16th September – continued to house one (1) senior citizen. Shelters activated and occupied in connection with the passage of Hurricane Ike through The Bahamas were as follows:
I am especially happy to report that notwithstanding damage to structures and infrastructure on Inagua resulting from Hurricane Ike, including damage to one of the hurricane shelters, we suffered no deaths and no serious injuries.
Schools reopened around the country on Monday 8 September with the exception of schools in Inagua where the impact of Ike required their continued closure. Children on Inagua returned to school on Tuesday, 16th September.
Ike was a category 4 hurricane when its eye crossed Inagua on Sunday night. Hurricanes above category 3 on the Saffir-Simpson scale are typified by severe damage to trees and vegetation and to the roofs of structures. These major storms are also usually accompanied by strong sea swells and surges of more than 8 or 10 feet.
On the morning following the passage of Hurricane Ike, all of us let out a collective sigh of relief. Notwithstanding the tremendous size and strength of the storm – a Category 4 hurricane packing winds of 135 miles per hour with the potential for dangerous sea swells and surges, Inagua and its residents had been, in large measure, spared the feared catastrophic destruction. Other islands in the south eastern Bahamas (Acklins, Crooked Island, Mayaguana, Long Island and Ragged Island) were only minimally impacted and none suffered damages of any consequence.
Minor damages were reported to schools, teachers and nurses residences, to the Administrator’s building and to churches in Acklins.Some one hundred and thirty eight (138) residences on that island sustained damages but these were almost all restricted to loss of asphalt shingles. Repairs to the clinic were underway prior to the hurricane and these are continuing. No new damage was sustained as a result of the storm.
Water, electrical and communication services on Acklins were unaffected by the storm.
There have been no reports of storm related damages in Crooked Island though reports do recommend that the road by the harbour in Landrail Point requires inspection.
Apart from lost quarry which had to be replaced at Salt Pond there were no reports of damages in Long Island.
Mayaguana also suffered no significant damage to infrastructure. The quarry landing at the mail boat dock was damaged and temporary repairs have reportedly been carried out by the Mayaguana Company. And, some minimal shingle loss was reported to some residences there.
Also, repairs are required to some twenty seven (27) miles of roads in Mayaguana, but this is unrelated to the hurricane.
Government offices, clinics and other structures at Ragged Island were minimally impacted by the storm.
Some thirty (30) homes on the island received minor shingles damage as a result of the storm.
Electricity supply and land telephone services were interrupted on the island as a result of high winds associated with Ike. Electricity services have been restored and BTC reports that full line services will be restored by the 3rd October. The island’s water supply was unaffected.
Unrelated to the storm, there remains an urgent need for the Duncan Town Clinic to be provided with a safe sewerage disposal facility. The need is complicated by the absence from the island of machinery required to dig the required cesspit in an area typified by hard rock.
Inagua was not as fortunate as the other islands of the south-eastern Bahamas. Still, we are fortunate however, that Inagua has but one settlement – Mathew Town, with a total population of fewer than 1,000 persons and with a fairly good standard of housing.
Four houses were destroyed by the storm and seven persons were left homeless. Many, many structures – private residences and businesses sustained significant damage.
The electricity network, owned and operated by Morton Salt, was destroyed; water supplies and land telecommunications were also interrupted, although cellular or mobile telephone services remained in operation.
Morton Salt, the main employer in that Community, suffered serious damage to its administrative offices, warehouse and docking facility. I am scheduled to meet with the representatives from Morton’s Home Office in the United States, tomorrow and expect to receive a more full report on the damage assessments which they will have conducted on their business during the past week and some indications of their future plans.
The first emergency flight into Inagua on Monday morning was a Bahamasair charter flight which carried representatives from NEMA, the Ministry of Public Works and the Departments of Social Services, Bahamas Electricity Corporation, Bahamas Telecommunication Corporation, Water and Sewerage Corporation, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Health, The Bahamas Red Cross, Ministry of Tourism, Royal Bahamas Defence Force Marines and Civil Aviation. The flight also delivered emergency relief supplies, i.e. water, food stuff, tarpaulin and plastic sheeting.
The primary tasks of this response team were to join with local government officials in the conduct of rapid assessments of damage and determine the need for emergency relief assistance.
Impressively, a number of private sector individuals from New Providence, gathered significant emergency relief supplies including water, dry food stuff, generators and roof tarpaulins and arranged for their delivery via private aircraft beginning on Monday 8th September.
Honourable Members will be aware that I also travelled to Inagua on Tuesday 9th September to inspect damage resulting from the passage of Hurricane Ike. This flight also transported additional supplies of water, food and emergency support items.
Significantly, relief supplies donated by residents of San Salvador also arrived by plane on the same day. I wish also to commend the local government authorities in Mathew Town for the rapidity with which they had already moved to clear the major roadways of fallen trees and debris.
I was accompanied on that inspection visit by a number of my Cabinet Colleagues: the Honourable Member for Mt. Moriah (Minister of National Security), the Honourable Member for Lucaya (Minister of Public Works & Transport), the Honourable Member for Marathon (Minister of the Environment), the Honourable Member for Sea Breeze (Minister of Education), the Honourable Member for Killarney (Minister of Health), and the Minister of Labour and Social Development.
We were joined by a three person team from Members Opposite, the Honourable member for Centreville and Farm Road (Leader of the Opposition) the Honourable Member for MICAL, and the Honourable Member for Englerston (the Chairman of the Opposition Party).
We were also accompanied by representatives from the church community including representatives from the Roman Catholic and the Anglican Archdioceses, The Bahamas Conference of Seventh Day Adventists and the Christian Council, The Bahamas Red Cross, The Bahamas Environment Science and Technology Commission (BEST), the Bahamas National Trust, the Nature Conservancy, and representatives from the print and audio visual media.
The Director of NEMA has implemented a 10-day relief plan whereby water, food, emergency support items, tarpaulin, plastic sheeting and generators are flown or transported by sea to Inagua.
To ensure the receipt of and distribution of materials and the coordination of volunteers, Mr. John Nixon from the Ministry of Tourism was assigned as NEMA’s Liaison Officer in Inagua. Effective this past Monday, September 15th Mr. Nixon will work with the Island Administrator, and officers from the Department of Social Services, Local Government, Defence Force Marines and Volunteers to begin the repair and reconstruction phase in the aftermath of Hurricane Ike.
Distribution of material began on Monday, September 15, 2008 with deliveries to 20 Inagua residents affected by hurricane Ike. Volunteers from the Methodist Habitat for Humanity began repairs on senior citizens homes yesterday, 16th September, 2008.
Organized cleaning of debris was also set to begin yesterday.
By this week Monday the Department of Social Services had completed assessments of two hundred and forty nine (249) houses in Inagua. Damage to residences has been categorized as follows:
♣ Major damages – Two hundred and one (201) ♣ Minor damages – Forty two (42)♣ Extensive damages – Two (2)♣ Destroyed – Four (4)
The damage assessments completed by the Department of Social Services indicate that the majority of houses on Inagua were uninsured against hurricane damage.
Hence, NEMA will be required to assist at a minimum with the supply of construction materials required to complete needed repairs.
It will be appreciated that the devastation of Hurricane Ike exacerbated the plight of the poor, the elderly and other less fortunate Bahamians.
For the purpose of accessing hurricane reconstruction relief NEMA will adopt the established criteria used to determine eligibility under existing community assistance programmes for the elderly, the disabled, and for low-income and/or indigent individuals. These criteria are:
(a) be Bahamian citizens residing in the Commonwealth of The Bahamas in owner-occupied homes during the hurricane;
(b) be old age pensioners, disabled persons or indigent persons who are receiving old age noncontributory pension or invalidity assistance from the National Insurance Board, or Disability Allowance from the Department of Social Services and have insufficient funds to make necessary repairs to their places of residence.
It has long been recognized that many individuals who do not meet the criteria for Government assistance through the Department of Social Services, or who did not meet the criteria for assistance from the National Donations Account, might still require assistance in effecting repairs to their businesses and/or residences damaged by the hurricane.
Notwithstanding the settlement of insurance claims, many individuals receiving those benefits also required additional funding to effect complete repairs to their residences and/or businesses. For example, some persons impacted by Ike may not qualify for home-owners and/or business loans from commercial banks.
Such individuals will have access to assistance as provided for under the Emergency Relief Government Loan Guarantee Act which was assented to on November 15, 1999. Under this programme, applicants who would not ordinarily qualify for a bank loan to facilitate hurricane damage repairs to their residences or businesses (including agricultural and/or fisheries enterprises) are able to access funding under a Government Guarantee. Mr. Speaker,
Potable water supply was restored in Inagua by last Thursday 11th September, 2008. This was made possible by the connection of a large generator. I note that the generator was transported to Inagua for the Water and Sewerage Corporation by the US Coast Guard and I wish to record our thanks for their prompt and generous assistance.
Honourable Members are advised that some school buildings suffered structural damage to columns and belt courses. In other instances roofs and windows were damaged and some furniture and supplies damaged/destroyed as a result of the hurricane. Fortunately much of the furniture is salvageable.
School resumed for classes 3, 6, 9, 11 and 12 yesterday, the 16th September. Fifty students attended classes. I was informed this morning that only 40 have reported today. Some parents in Inagua have expressed concern about what they regard as mold in some classrooms and also about the general fitness of some classrooms. As a result, school in Inagua will be closed until further appropriate assessments can be undertaken and decisions made as to how best to minimize the interruption of Inagua’s children’s education and how best to do so in a safe and healthy way.
I want to assure parents that classes will continue and/or resume only as classrooms are properly cleaned and made safe or relocated to alternative safe locations identified in the community. Every effort will be made by the Ministry of Education for all students to return to class by next Monday, 22nd September.
The community health clinic reported only minor leaks which are being addressed.
Mr. Speaker,Inagua’s dock and supporting infrastructure was seriously impacted by the storm. The dock itself remains useable though it sustained damages. In addition to dock repairs the following will need to be addressed:
♣ Repairs to the Dock Masters building♣ Replacement of roof for the Fuel Building. ♣ Replacement access steps for those destroyed by the storm♣ Replacement for an uprooted lamp pole.
The Government Administration Building requires a new roof and replacement of interior and exterior doors.
The Airport remains useable and in service. For example:
♣ Runway lights have been tested and are operational.♣ Apron/ Taxiway lights were tested and are operational.
However, the facility suffered considerable damage, e.g.
♣ Windsock destroyed♣ Approximately 700 feet of the perimeter fencing was destroyed♣ Terminal Building Exterior – extensive damage to roof, masonry structural damage, electrical supply connection, windows and doors.♣ Terminal Building Interior – damage to passenger seats. Bahamas Customs and Aviation Security Sections suffered extensive water damage to telephones, facsimile machines, computers, microwaves, refrigerators, desks and chairs and stationary. And,♣ The electrical supply is unserviceable.
Honourable Members will be aware that the Bahamas Telecommunications Company suffered considerable damage to its Inagua plant.Firstly, the new addition to their office building, which was under construction, was partially destroyed. The Communications Tower was also destroyed and the roof and ceiling to the original office building was destroyed when the satellite fell onto it during the storm.
While all land telephone lines in Inagua lost service, the cellular system remained intact throughout the hurricane. As of the yesterday, BTC advised that 60% of its land lines had been restored to service. Full land service is expected to be affected by the 30th September.
The Bahamas Electricity Corporation, which was slated to take over the Morton Salt electricity supply in Inagua at the end of this month, has dispatched crews to Inagua to commence restoration of the electrical grid which was destroyed by the storm. Two crews from the Grand Bahama Power Company have joined with BEC in an effort to effect restoration of general electricity supply in the shortest period possible.
Thus far the main lines from the power station north to the airport, and from the power station south to the lighthouse have been repaired. The crews are now focusing their efforts on repairing the power lines through side streets.
The restoration of power supply is pending the completion of a house-to-house inspection and running up of the Mathew Town Power Station by a Morton Bahamas team.
Recovery efforts will be undertaken on a number of fronts: infrastructure repair including the dock, utility repairs and the repair of Government-owned buildings, that is: the airport, school and administration buildings.
In addition to access to supplies to assist with reconstruction and repair of uninsured primary residences, residents in Inagua will also have access to concessionary loans as they seek to recover from damages to their businesses, primary residences and/or vehicles.
Already, duty-free importation of construction materials is available to Inaguans under the provisions of the Family Island Development Act. An Exigency Order, which I propose to sign in the near term, will provide for duty-free importation of replacement furniture, household appliances and vehicles which can be documented to have been destroyed during the course of Hurricane Ike through Inagua.
We will, as is our custom, continue to ensure the coordination of the delivery of assistance to the uninsured, the elderly, disabled and/or indigent especially for the repair and/or re-construction of primary residences seriously damaged by the hurricane.
I take this opportunity to recognize and commend NEMA, the Hurricane Preparedness Committees throughout our Family Islands and the many men and women who serve in Local Government administration and in elected local government office around our country.
I had the occasion to speak with the majority of Family Island Administrators and Chief Councillors in the hours leading up to the arrival of Hurricane Ike in our waters. I was fully satisfied by their state of readiness for the hurricane. The level of leadership displayed by all was commendable and in no small measure is responsible, I believe, for the safety and well-being of our citizens during and after the passage of the storm.
As usual, members of the Royal Bahamas Police and the Royal Bahamas Defence Forces deployed around our islands in advance of the storm lent essential assistance in hurricane preparedness including assisting persons relocate to hurricane shelters and initial recovery efforts. Subsequently they have assisted with emergency relief. In the days and weeks ahead they will continue to assist with restoration efforts in Inagua.
I also recognize the dedicated service of the public health personnel, very particularly nurses, who were required to remain on duty and to man community clinics throughout the storm. The clinic in Mathew Town was open and the nurse was on duty in Inagua beginning immediately after the passage of the storm.
I commend the administrative team at the Ministry and at the Department of Public Health whose programmes ensure that our community health clinics are properly stocked with emergency supplies and medications in advance of storms. Importantly, our clinics have been provided with backup power generators. Hence, electricity supply was available to safeguard the integrity of medicines in Inagua notwithstanding the extensive damage to the electricity supply and distribution network around Mathew Town.
I want to take this opportunity to record the thanks and appreciation of the Government and people of The Bahamas to the Untied States of America which, as has long been their practice, extended immediate emergency assistance to us notwithstanding their own concern with the arrival of Hurricane Ike on US shores. It would be difficult to overstate the goodwill and assistance of the American Government and its people toward us in times of crisis.
In this regard, I advise that in addition to the transport of relief supplies to Inagua via a C120 aircraft, the US Coast Guard provided helicopter transportation which permitted me and a small delegation from among those accompanying me to Inagua a week ago Tuesday, to stop briefly in Mayaguana and to visit Grand Turk and South Caicos to get a first hand view of damages sustained on those islands.
I also wish to acknowledge that in addition to private sector donations of emergency relief supplies provided to residents in Inagua directly by the private sector as has been reported in the media; NEMA has also been the recipient of donations of relief supplies for Inagua. All cash donations are deposited into NEMA’s Donations Account. The Donations Account as of the 14th September, 2008 had a balance of $524,197.26 inclusive of donations received to date in relation to Hurricane Ike.
Members will recall that donations received from members of the public, business houses, international disaster relief agencies and donor countries are deposited to the NEMA’s Donations Bank Account. These funds are made for the purpose of extending special assistance to those unable to adequately recover from a disaster by means of their own resources.
The criteria for the use of donated relief funds were established to govern the expenditure of donations deposited into the National Disaster Relief Fund established following the passage of Hurricane Andrew in 1992. The same criteria are now applied to expenditure from the NEMA Donations Account as follows:
1. The Donations Account is a “standing fund” into which private donations are deposited to assist with emergency relief efforts following disasters;
2. The administration of the Account is the responsibility of the Secretary to the Cabinet who assigns a senior administrative officer (i.e. The Director of NEMA) and a Finance Officer to supervise expenditure from the account;
3. The Government makes no administrative charges to the Donations Account;
4. No public infrastructure or capital works may be repaired or reinstated by the resources of the Donations Account;
5. Deposits to the Donations Account can be applied to the following:
-emergency relief (acquisition and delivery of water, food, and emergency supplies);
-clean-up of debris resulting from the hurricane, including trucking and disposal of debris;
-repair and reconstruction efforts (purchase of building and construction materials for distribution to uninsured private home owners experiencing serious damage to their dwellings); and
purchase or rental of equipment not readily available in Government Ministries and Departments but required in the restoration and reconstruction process.
To the extent that private contracts are required to carry out repairs and construction works to private houses, the resources of the Donations Account may be expended on labour costs. Additionally, room and board costs associated with volunteers donating labour to a reconstruction effort may also be charged to the Fund. I wish to emphasize that no monies from the Donations Account are expended on the restoration of any public infrastructure or Government buildings whether administrative, schools or clinics.
A line item in the National Budget of the Cabinet Office funds the imprest or operating account which provides for the administration and operating costs associated with NEMA.
Many of our neighbours were not as fortunate as we were in confronting the impact of the hurricane. Honourable Members will be aware of the catastrophic and tragic damage suffered in Haiti and the terrible, ruinous damage suffered in the Turks and Caicos Islands, very particularly in Grand Turk and South Caicos, in Cuba and ultimately in Texas where the island of Galveston has been devastated and the City of Houston seriously impacted. Flooding associated with the remnants of Hurricane Ike continues to impact a number of communities along a swath of the Gulf Coast, in the south and central United States.
We offer our condolences to the Governments and people of Haiti, the Turks and Caicos Islands, Cuba and the United States of America on the loss of life and on the terrible financial and economic toll resulting from the hurricane. Honourable Members will be aware that church and private sector groups in our country are already involved in extending emergency relief assistance not only to Inagua but to Haiti and to the Turks and Caicos Islands where many of our citizens and other residents have extended family and friends.
Turks and Caicos, like The Bahamas, is a member state of the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Response Agency (CDERA). As current Chairman of CDERA I am kept informed on recovery efforts in Turks and Caicos which will assist us in ensuring that our assistance is given where most needed.
The Government of The Bahamas, through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will coordinate the extension of financial and other assistance to fellow Caribbean states suffering the fallout from the hurricane. We shall, in due course, inform of the level of assistance we are able to offer particularly to Haiti and to the Turks and Caicos Islands.