By SANCHESKA BROWN
Tribune Staff Reporter
IT WILL cost “tens of millions of dollars” to restore and rebuild the infrastructure on the southern and central Bahamas islands that were completely devastated by the passage of Hurricane Joaquin, according to Prime Minister Perry Christie.
At a press conference at the Exuma Airport on Saturday, after conducting an aerial assessment of the affected islands, Prime Minister Perry Christie told reporters that the category four hurricane severely damaged and in some cases completely destroyed power lines and telephone antennas in San Salvador, Crooked Island, Long Island and Acklins.
These areas have been without electricity and telephone service since Thursday.
Officials from the Bahamas Electricity Corporation (BEC) and the Bahamas Telecommunications Corporation (BTC) said it could take up to ten days to restore power and communications on the affected islands.
The prime minister said the infrastructural repairs will be “extraordinary” in terms of cost for the central government.
“The devastation is not just to people’s private property and homes, where we will have to render assistance, but the infrastructure has been severely damaged and that goes into the tens of millions of dollars when you add up the total and that is why assessment is important,” Mr Christie said.
BTC CEO Leon Williams said his staff is working 24/7 to get the communication systems up, however because of power outages and widespread flooding it is difficult to begin the restoration process in Acklins, Crooked Island, Long Island and San Salvador.
“We have had a number of towers lost in Long Island, three towers to be exact. We lost a tower in Crooked Island and our challenge right now is to get to Long Island, once we get Long Island up we can get the other islands up,” he said on Saturday. “We still have no communications with Crooked Island and as the prime minister indicated, we are pressed to get there. We lost a roof for the generators in Crooked Island and a roof for the building in Crooked Island and three antennas. We have got a temporary tower to carry into Long Island to restore the cellular network as soon as we get power. The difficulty in Long Island and some of the other islands is staff cannot get to the other settlements because of the water, so they can only tell you what is damaged within their settlements, that is the challenge we have in Long Island and in Crooked Island.”
Carlo Alloni, group chief technology and information officer and executive vice president at Cable & Wireless Communications, said a team from CWC (BTC’s parent company) in Jamaica and Panama are ready to fly in and assist the restoration effort.
He said once teams are on the ground, telephone restoration could take anywhere between one to ten days in affected areas.
Many islands affected by the storm have been without electricity for at least five days.
BEC General Manager Kevin Basden said the plan is to “isolate the priority circuits” to get as many customers on as possible and to restore communication.
“As it relates to Long Island, you would have heard that the north and south are physically separated because of the water and that presents a challenge not only from communication but from staff on one side being able to talk to the other side on an ongoing basis, so we will continue with our assessments. Our staff on the ground has already begun their isolation in terms of the north side, the idea is to get as many customers on as we can as quickly as we can by isolating the circuits and getting the priority circuits on and that is our approach,” Mr Basden said.
“We have had a number of islands that have been damaged by the hurricane at the same time, but we will have our resources designed so we can work multiple islands at the same time and in that regard we will also be having assistance from our international partners, in particular Association of Electrical Utilities, they are on standby waiting to send in personnel. Obviously with the number of poles that are down in some situations, we would also have to utilise barges to get in heavy equipment as well as materials to assist with that, but we give our assurance that we will take every step to ensure customers are on as soon as possible.”
A statement released by Mr Williams last night said services were online in southern Abaco, Eleuthera, Andros, the Berry Islands and Bimini. BTC teams were still working to restore service to Devil’s Point, Cat Island, along with Acklins, Crooked Island, Long Island, Inagua and Mayaguana.
Last night, BEC said it was still working to restore full supply to areas of Inagua and Cat Island, however, power had been returned to most parts of those islands. Crews were still working to restore power on San Salvador, Mayaguana, Rum Cay, Crooked Island and Acklins. These islands - aside from Crooked Island which only had standing water that restricted access - received significant damage to BEC’s networks. Power has been restored to parts of north Long Island; however, the southern end was still without electricity.