By KHRISNA VIRGIL
Tribune Staff Reporter
PRIME Minister Perry Christie said yesterday the government plans to simultaneously rebuild the hurricane-ravaged Family Islands where an estimated 836 homes were completely destroyed.
Mr Christie said based on information from the Department of Social Services, Hurricane Joaquin wiped out 413 homes in Long Island, 227 houses in San Salvador, 123 homes in Acklins, 50 houses in Crooked Island and 23 residences in Rum Cay.
However, Mr Christie suggested that the numbers could increase as teams continue to assess the damage to homes and provide assistance to impacted and displaced families.
Last week, the nation’s leader said an initial estimate of the costs of damage due to Hurricane Joaquin was already at $60m and was expected to rise as the additional assessments came into the Ministry of Finance.
While he has stated the government will most likely borrow money to assist with rebuilding, he revealed yesterday that the government has received grants to assist with the effort. The most recent grant was $1.7m from the Japanese government through its Japanese Aid Programme.
The prime minister yesterday spoke about this matter in the House of Assembly and the progress made on the southern and central islands since the passage of the category four storm earlier this month.
“This is a continuing exercise,” Mr Christie said, “and based on their (the assessors) findings, the government will respond in kind as a part of the work of the National Restoration and Recovery Unit. This will be done in the shortest possible time as the primary consideration of my government is to house and restore the physical comforts of our citizens.”
He continued: “Mr Speaker, I have met personally with the leaders of these teams, the engineers from the Ministry of Works and all the technical people of the government with the view to indicating that the intention of the government, Mr Speaker, which is to restore these matters in the shortest possible time and that we want to have a comprehensive approach to restoration, not one island at a time, but all islands at the same time.
“So, Mr Speaker, I expect as these teams come in that works will commence, in fact work has already commenced on some islands.”
The Department of Housing, he said, has provided designs of houses constructed following previous hurricanes, however, the foundation designs have to be adjusted to account for higher flood levels experienced during Hurricane Joaquin. Local contractors will be given the opportunity to construct the homes in the various Family Islands.
Mr Christie said as the efforts begin, the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) has purchased five “homes on wheels” that can each accommodate three adults or two adults and two children. Additionally seven mobile trailer homes were procured that are able to accommodate six to 10 persons.
The temporary units will be assigned to families and government employees on the affected islands who have been displaced due to the destruction of their homes or rental units while the construction of permanent replacements are completed.
Immediately after the passage of Hurricane Joaquin, BTC discovered that 59 of its cell sites were off line that negatively affected 59 communities in the central and southern islands.
However, over the last two weeks, BTC has been able to restore services to all islands except south Long Island where two cell sites are down in the settlements of Roses and Mortimer’s. This is due to downed poles that are hindering the restoration of normal services, Mr Christie said.
He said at the moment there are no fixed Internet services to the south of Clarence Town, but work is continuing.
In Acklins, all sites are still down and dishes have been destroyed. Mr Christie said in Lovely Bay residents are able to make cellular calls using the site at Crooked Island. Also in Long Cay the dish on the cell tower needs to be re-aligned.
Family Island airports
The Department of Civil Aviation, Mr Christie said, has confirmed that all airports in the islands affected by Hurricane Joaquin are open for normal operations, although some terminal buildings suffered damage.
The last to be re-opened was Deadman’s Cay Airport in Long Island, which was opened for service on October 9.
He said the Department of Civil Aviation is continuing to carry out assessments on the conditions of the airports in the affected areas with a view towards any immediate remediation that may be necessary.
In the immediate aftermath of the hurricane, Mr Christie said the Department of Social Services deployed four teams consisting of 14 social workers to conduct rapid initial damage assessments and assist with distribution of food and water to the severely affected islands.
The team deployed to Rum Cay conducted assessments on 29 homes, but were unable to process any of the winter residents whose homes may have been affected. He said the social workers are still compiling data on the number of residents by gender – this includes 10 school age children.
In San Salvador the team assessed 216 homes and counted 62 unoccupied homes. There are 227 students on the island, however, five have relocated to the capital.
During assessments in Crooked Island, the department processed 25 homes. Sixteen people remain in the clinic, as their homes are inhabitable.
There are seven homes remaining in Long Cay, which had 24 persons.
Mr Christie said long-term accommodations need to be identified for them along with the other residents whose homes were destroyed or severely damaged.
In Acklins, social workers completed 107 assessments. This does not include the persons whose homes were destroyed. They are in the process of compiling their data.
A team was deployed for Long Island on October 5. The team reported that the island was severely damaged which resulted in many homes being destroyed.
Mr Christie said it was difficult for the social workers to obtain an accurate count of all the families and homes that were affected by Hurricane Joaquin. However, they continue to process and compile information on the number of men, women and children affected.
Mr Christie said with respect to the restoration and recovery of vital state owned infrastructure, the Ministry of Works and its Urban Planning Department has completed its initial survey of damage, including roads, causeways and bridges and other government installations, including schools, clinics, and official residences.
He said he was in the process of analysing this report to decide on further action.
Staff from the Ministry of Housing are currently reviewing the assessments and compiling lists of building materials required for repairs in the affected islands.
Mr Christie said NEMA is also sourcing building materials which will be shipped to the Family Islands to be distributed to persons who have requested and qualified for assistance with building materials only or for building materials and labour.
The Royal Bahamas Defence Force will assist with some of the smaller repairs and NEMA is compiling a list of contractors and skilled construction craftsmen in the various Family Islands who will be able to assist with labour for repairs.
The technical staff of the Disaster Recovery and Reconstruction Unit with the help of other government agencies is compiling the list of homes that will have to be constructed to accommodate those persons whose homes were destroyed and have no source of permanent shelter.
Mr Christie said it is expected that there will be a close liaison between all of these engineering teams to ensure that there is no overlapping and more importantly that nothing falls between the cracks.