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'Time To Come Home To Acklins,' Administrator Tells Island Evacuees

By RASHAD ROLLE

Tribune Staff Reporter

rrolle@tribunemedia.net

JEFFREY Forbes, one of his island's oldest living residents, has a message for Hurricane Irma's Acklins evacuees: Come home and clean up your yard.

In the wake of Hurricane Irma, the island's largest problem is neither flooding nor destroyed homes as some evacuees contend, but rather the debris that has washed up from storm surges, officials maintain.

The debris can only be cleaned up if residents return to look after their properties.

Although the evacuees, staying in a shelter here in New Providence, were expected to return to their island over the weekend, only 13 of them did so. Some of those who remained complained that the island was no longer a fit place to live.

"This is a place where people could live," countered Mr Forbes, 75, who missed the evacuation flight out of Acklins two weeks ago because he was late arriving at the airport.

"All it needs is cleaning up. I say to the people who left here they need to come back home and clean their yard and their house. You can't be in Nassau complaining, you have to be where your house is."

When told residents are concerned they'd have nothing to which to return in Acklins, he said: "People will say anything. They will say all kinds of stories and if you believe them you just as bad as them."

Although flooding was a problem for the island, that water has "already dried up," Mr Forbes said.

Acklins Island Administrator Chrisfield Johnson also said while the island, particularly the hard-hit Salina Point area, is not as "habitable" as it was before Hurricane Irma, the biggest challenge left is debris which was scattered around the district from storm surges.

Clean-up crews cannot enter people's properties to clean up the debris, Mr Johnson said, meaning only residents can take care of the island's biggest remaining challenge.

"My job is to make sure that whenever the residents return that at least we have done as much cleanup as possible to make the community safe," he said. "It would be helpful if some of the people who are now staying in Nassau try to return as soon as possible. We are not allowed to go onto persons' yards and remove debris and all kinds of things that can pose community problems. We can only ask them to please make sure that whatever rubbish, whatever debris, whatever things they want to dispose of, to please bring them to the roadside as that would assist us. Because a lot of people who live here are still in Nassau, the storm surge means that a lot of stuff remains on their property. We don't know the extent of the debris because I advised the cleanup group not to go into anyone's property to try and remove anything. If they were here they could speak to their own interest. Looking from the roadside we see there is debris in a number of yards that belong to people who are now still in Nassau. We would be in a better position to determine what is going on once we work with them by going in their homes to see the extent of the damage."

Bahamas Power & Light (BPL) is trying to restore electricity to the island, beginning with Salina Point.

"BPL hasn't completed the workload but we've gotten to a point where a lot of people are comfortable with the fact that they now have electricity and water," Mr Johnson said.

The evacuees have been moved from the New Providence Community Centre on Blake Road and are now at the Kendal Isaacs Gym.

When The Tribune visited the gym yesterday, the residents, most of them children, were eating lunch in the foyer area. Many of the evacuees declined to talk.

"If I talk I'll only say horrible things," one woman mumbled.

Salome Gibson, assistant director at the Ministry of Social Services and manager of the shelter, said 85 people remained, all but two of whom are from Acklins. Of the 85, 59 are children. Most of the adults left are women.

A plane carrying 13 evacuees back to their island left New Providence yesterday, she said.

Officials will wait until Wednesday to determine what to do next. If it appears that Hurricane Maria is heading Acklins' way, the evacuees could have their stay at the gym extended.

So far, officials have had no issue with resources for the evacuees as calls for donations have elicited an "overwhelming" response from the public.

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