By KHRISNA VIRGIL
Deputy Chief Reporter
PRIME Minister Perry Christie acknowledged yesterday that the government needed to do a better job of ensuring hurricane shelters were kept up to standard, as he pledged to redirect his administration’s focus on the proper licensing of these facilities.
Speaking in the House of Assembly on Thursday, the prime minister said it was “incredibly important” for the government to insist that shelters have the capacity to house people comfortably and safely.
When Hurricane Matthew barreled through the capital earlier this month, the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) said it was forced to revise its list of shelters in New Providence after one of the recognised shelters, C R Walker High School on Baillou Hill Road, was compromised.
As a result, people were redirected to the Church of God of Prophecy on East Street.
“Some of our shelters were challenged,” Mr Christie said. “The Disaster Preparedness Act empowers the director of NEMA (and) the prime minister to appoint managers of centres.
“Critics have said that there were some shelters that were compromised and the challenge there being is if you send people into a shelter for their maximum protection and the shelter is compromised on the basis of not being sufficiently secure then you have a challenge.
“That is an incredibly important point that we must use as a predicate to reshift our focus on those shelters that must be licensed to be shelters.”
He added: “But the lessons that I think I learned from those visitations (to shelters during the storm) is that the government of the Bahamas must have a special item of preparation for sheltering and consistent with the Disaster Preparedness Act and the intention of the act to ensure that those shelters have the capacity to house people comfortably (and) securely and to have whatever is necessary for those purposes including a generator as it has been suggested.”
Mr Christie said ahead of Matthew’s arrival, he visited several shelters to gain an understanding of how they function and pointed to the more “acute” concern he had about facilities for the same use in the Family Islands.
“One of the moments that we must learn from is both the (Kendal Isaacs) Gym and the stadium were built to withstand hurricane conditions and a total of 600 people between the two of them can be comfortably housed.
“I went to the Hillview Seventh-day Adventist church they then had 303 people there and they were using the body of the church (and) all the antique rooms of the church but there were people who had sought shelter at the church on the hill and they ended up with 340 or there about in that church.
“When we look at the islands it becomes even more of an acute concern. And in the islands, in places like Long Island, the conversation has to be given to building public buildings that will be used as shelters specifically to withstand the strongest possible winds and to be transformed in the face of a hurricane into a very secure hurricane shelter.
“But the shelters on our islands must receive a specific commitment beginning now as we move forward to ensure that there is no question as to the sufficiency of the shelter.”
There are 146 shelters scattered across the country, according to the most recent Department of Social Services hurricane shelter list issued earlier this month.