GRAND Bahama will be “significantly impacted” by Hurricane Irma, and residents are being urged to evacuate all coastal and low-lying areas prone to flooding.
The 700-plus visitors on the island are also advised to make arrangements to leave as soon as possible as both airport and harbour operations will cease on Friday.
During a press conference at the Office of the Prime Minister on Wednesday, Minister of State for Grand Bahama Kwasi Thompson warned: “This is a very serious storm and all residents must take the necessary precautions.”
Mr Thompson stated that as a result of the latest projections, the storm is expected to “significantly impact” the island, with weather conditions deteriorating by late Friday and continuing until Monday.
The worst of the weather, he said, is expected on Sunday.
“All residents in flood zones should prepare themselves now to evacuate those areas,” said Mr Thompson. “If you live near the coastline you should begin to prepare to move further inland as there would be significant flooding and storm surge is predicted.”
Residents of West End, Hunters, Pinder’s Point, and the surrounding areas should evacuate and make plans to move further inland staying with family and friends or at the 11 designated shelters on the island. A shelter has also been designated for all visitors remaining on the island.
Shelters will open on Thursday afternoon and all evacuations should be completed by Friday afternoon.
They are: The Foster B Pestaina Centre at the Pro Cathedral of Christ of the King for special needs individuals; First Baptist Church Hall; Central Church of God; Jack Hayward High School; Maurice Moore Primary School for East End residents; St Georges High School; the Cancer Association, Eight Mile Rock High School residents of West Grand Bahama; Church of God of Prophecy Seagrape EMR; A Social Affair, Grace Bible Church, and the Freeport Seventh-Day Adventist Church.
Paula Marshall, assistant director of the Department of Social Services, said they are also looking at other shelters.
She stated that persons going to a shelter should take a change of clothing for themselves and their children, blanket, food, water, toiletries, and other essential items, including medication.
Mrs Marshall also advised residents to secure important documents in a sealed plastic bag. She said residents should go to sleep in clothing prepared for an emergency.
“It is unfortunate that the people of Grand Bahama have to face the onslaught of another hurricane, 11 months after dealing with the devastation of Hurricane Matthew in October 2016,” she said.
Mr Thompson stressed that people should not panic, but to prepare themselves and pray.
Deputy Commissioner of Police Emrick Seymour said police are in heightened state of alert.
“We have already seen some of the devastation caused to the Leeward Islands and we are beginning to see the seriousness of this monster storm,” he said.
All policing protocols, he said, have been activated in Grand Bahama, Abaco and Bimini.
“GB is no stranger to hurricanes. We have seen the devastation wrought by hurricanes, but this particular one is going to be worse than any we experienced in recent history. We want everyone in GB, Abaco, and Bimini not to take this hurricane lightly.
“We cannot put officers’ lives at risk and other emergency personnel lives to come in the middle of the hurricane to rescue persons,” he said, appealing to residents in the southern coastal settlements to heed the call to evacuate.
Island Administrator Preston Cunningham stated that the Emergency Operation Command (EOC) Centre is in the Harold DeGregory Complex and will be activated on Thursday morning. The telephone number is 351-4902-4.
He too has warned residents not to wait until the last minute to prepare their homes or to evacuate.
“This hurricane is so powerful, extremely powerful. Make sure that you are ready,” he said. “Ensure that your homes are properly secured, do not wait for the last minute, secure it now. If homes are not sound structurally make sure you make provision immediately to go to a family member or go to the shelter.
“Those of you who live on the shoreline and low-lying areas please do not wait until the storm is bearing down. Prepare to get out without delay. Any delay can be extremely dangerous and we do not want to put rescuers’ lives at risk,” said the administrator.
Meanwhile, Mr Thompson said that all government assets are being secured.