Captain Stephen Russell, Director, and Gayle Outten-Moncur, Disaster Manager, of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) attended the Central Abaco District Disaster Committee Meeting held on July 25 at the Department of Education’s Conference Room.
According to Capt. Russell, his visit to Abaco was part of his customary tour of the islands prior to the peak of hurricane season. Altogether, his visits take him to eleven islands and two cays with Abaco, Grand Bahama and Bimini being the northernmost islands targeted by hurricanes. Nevertheless, he added that his agency adopts a comprehensive approach when dealing with all types of disasters.
Although last year brought many challenges, he was thankful that no lives were lost. Still, there were 2,253 private homes adversely impacted by Hurricane Irene. Additionally, churches that function as shelters also sustained damages.
Capt. Russell said that they are currently trying to wind down operations after a year of carrying out repairs in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene. During that time, NEMA employed local construction agencies to carry out 200 plus repairs throughout the islands and an account was set up at hardware stores for people needing repairs.
“The Bahamas is the only country in the region where the government buys materials and does repairs,” he disclosed. “Unfortunately, we appear to be breeding a culture of dependability.”
Going forward, Capt. Russell suggested that there needs to be better enforcement of building codes. The greatest hindrance so far, he said, is an effective assessment team.
Additionally, he suggested that the Disaster Committee needs to form sub-committees that focus on areas like communication, health, shelters, volunteerism and a local disaster plan. With regard to volunteerism, Capt. Russell said an appeal must be made to church members and non-governmental organizations. Education’s District Superintendent Dr. Lenora Black reassured him that volunteerism is alive and well and that, once called upon, people on Abaco usually respond.
Despite Abaco’s many districts, he advised that there must always be a link in Central Abaco. This year an early warning siren has been designated for Abaco.
Before closing the meeting Capt. Russell also heard feedback from Wynsome Ferguson of the Abaco Tourist Office; George Martin of BEC; Dr. Lenora Black concerning schools; Barbara Johnson and Sarone Kennedy from the Central Abaco Red Cross Group; Petty Officer Andre Major of the Royal Bahamas Defence Force’s Abaco Detachment; Superintendent Noel Curry of the Marsh Harbour Police Station; Kimbilee Wells of the Department of Environmental Health; Nurse Maxine Brown regarding the clinics on Abaco; and Kimrice Miller from the Dept. of Social Services on shelters.