By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE Minnis administration will table legislation establishing mandatory evacuation procedures for natural disasters when Parliament resumes this week, Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis confirmed yesterday.
“I’ve spoken to the attorney general and they are drafting it,” he said. “I think it’s essential we have mandatory evacuation. Not only that but we must now have a manual for evacuation so we have guidelines; guidelines for category one, for category two which may not require evacuations. A requirement may be category four or five; that’s things that have to be discussed. We’ve learned quite a bit from this procedure therefore our manual will tell us exactly how individuals are dispatched, how people are collected, how facilities are set up, etc.”
Official Opposition Leader Philip “Brave” Davis said he supports legislating mandatory evacuation procedures, but added that it was unnecessary to evacuate Bahamians from danger zones ahead of Hurricanes Joaquin and Matthew when the Progressive Liberal Party was in power, as the Minnis administration did prior to Irma’s arrival.
In 2015, Hurricane Joaquin in particular devastated some of the same southern islands from which people were evacuated before Irma, with many residents complaining two years ago that they were unprepared for the storm.
That year, former Prime Minister Perry Christie said the Office of the Attorney General had drafted an order empowering the director of NEMA to declare a state of emergency and instruct mandatory evacuations. The idea resurfaced in 2016 after some residents in southern New Providence resisted calls to evacuate flood zones, prompting officials to perform emergency rescues once Matthew hit.
“Joaquin and Matthew were not as dangerous as this hurricane,” Mr Davis told reporters yesterday.
“What one has to look at in each category is the estimate of what kinds of damage may happen. In category one certain damage may be sustained; in category two or four (other kinds) of damage may be sustained so it depends on the category and the level that’s coming. No doubt the decision to evacuate (this time around) was not made by the prime minister alone. That information would’ve been gathered from the technical people. No such recommendation was made from the technical experts with respect to Joaquin and Matthew. Had it been made the decision would’ve been supported.”
During mandatory evacuation procedures, law enforcement officers will be empowered to physically remove people, Mr Davis said. People could also be expected to be charged with an offence.
Meanwhile, Health Minister Dr Duane Sands said several people in the Family Islands were injured before Hurricane Irma’s arrival but could not be airlifted to New Providence until NEMA gave the “all clear”.
“There were accident victims in Exuma, some with very serious fractures and head injuries that we could not evacuate,” he said. “When we got the all clear yesterday (Saturday) we were able to mobilise aircraft shortly after 4pm and they were able to retrieve patients from three islands, Exuma, Eleuthera and Abaco and the patients were safely administered to PMH. In Exuma we had three victims of a vehicle collision. At the time of the accident airports in Exuma and LPIA were closed. The medical team in Exuma did the best they could.”
Dr Sands said there will likely be more effort in the future to remove medical professionals from the pathway of a dangerous storm as was done this time around when they were evacuated from MICAL and Ragged Island.
“I think there’s a difference between police, defence force and health professionals,” he said. “Those are all essential services. However, the police and defence force have a different approach, different training for surviving these kinds of circumstances. At this time, the position of the minister of health is not to maintain staff in a situation where their safety is at risk. Obviously as we draft the policy for mandatory evacuations, the specifics will have to be determined.”
For his part, Dr Minnis said he’ll refrain from giving a definitive statement on how the country fared from Hurricane Irma until he sees some of the harder hit islands for himself and gets a proper assessment of them.
Plans for him and a government delegation to visit the southern islands yesterday were scratched amid high winds in New Providence. A delegation is expected to visit the islands today.
“A leader is only as great as his team,” Dr Minnis said in response to a question about how the government and its agencies responded to his first major test as prime minister. “I had a very, very good team. The team worked, they were on point. Once the team continues to do the work…then I think we’re in good hands.”