By MORGAN ADDERLEY
Tribune Staff Reporter
NATIONAL Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) Director Captain Stephen Russell told the Tribune yesterday the agency has never lifted its “uninhabitable” declaration on Ragged Island.
With Hurricane Season 2018 less than two days away, there are some 60 residents on the island.
NEMA has predicted an active season with approximately seven hurricanes, three of these are expected to be Category Three or higher.
Yesterday, Captain Russell said people would have to be evacuated from Ragged Island in the event of another serious storm.
“If, God forbid, something happens during the course of this year… those persons will again have to be removed from the island,” he said.
“The basic infrastructure is not secure. The hospitals, the police stations, the administrative office, those facilities have not yet been restored. Therefore, we cannot provide them the essential services or support they would need in that current condition.
“The island has officially been declared uninhabitable.
“That has not been lifted as yet. But persons still went back home. The government cannot render the island habitable or liveable because their infrastructure is not in place.”
“That is the current condition of that island. Those who are there, we will have to bring them out of the island if a major storm is threatening that community.”
Earlier this month The Tribune published the concerns of frustrated Ragged Islanders, who are demanding the government prioritise critical restoration initiatives as protracted delays have handicapped local efforts to rebuild and restore normalcy to the hurricane-ravaged island.
Chief among those concerns was the scarcity of potable water and health services, which the island’s association claim have stalled attempts to rebuild.
After more than two months of waiting on approvals, Restoration Ragged Island Association told The Tribune it received permission from the Water and Sewerage Corporation to install a more robust temporary reverse osmosis plant.
Last week, Ellery Lockhart installed a water treatment plant on Ragged Island and spoke to The Tribune about the plant and concerns for the upcoming hurricane season.
He added while the plant is still having some issues with filtration, once it is up and running it will produce about 1200 gallons of water a day.
“[This] means that along with the current system the capacity will be increased to about 1700 gallons a day,” Mr Lockhart said.
“The goal is for the residents to be getting water on a daily basis using some kind of rationing system.”
Residents aren’t expected to be able to receive water “24/7”, he said.
The plant cost approximately $15,000 to purchase and another $5-7,000 to install. All monies were procured from donations to the Association. Mr Lockhart extended special thanks to Maxine Wallace for her support and also the government who waived duty and VAT.
“On behalf of Restoration Ragged Island, we would like to thank the government for giving us all those exemptions— it allowed our money to go further,” he said.
When asked about Ragged Islanders’ biggest concern ahead of the upcoming hurricane season, Mr Lockhart said their goal is to “be dry”. Many residents are still challenged with roof repairs, which are dangerous in the face of impending storms. Mr Lockhart himself still hopes to rebuild his own home.
In regards to the plant, Mr Lockhart said: “The plant was installed…using the proper construction methods. So we have to take our chances like everybody else. A hurricane could come and there’s nothing to say that it won’t be destroyed. The only thing we can do is rebuild. We live in a hurricane zone. Hurricanes [are] going to come. It’s just a matter of how much damage it will do.
“The only thing we are asking for is that the government do what the government is supposed to do.
Last year’s Hurricane Irma decimated Ragged Island, and days after its passage, Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis said health and safety conditions rendered the island unliveable.
Dr Minnis also announced the government’s intention to “transform” it into the first fully “green” island in the region.
The prime minister explained, at the time, renewable energy and smart technology from solar energy and sustainable water purification systems will be utilized for this effort with the help of residents and descendants of the island.
However, nearly nine months later, there has been little improvement on the island.
When asked about the status of the island during yesterday’s press briefing, Press Secretary Anthony Newbold said: “The prime minister’s response is that’s why a committee went down there to see where they were and move forward with the evaluation of what needs to happen.”
“[Dr Minnis has] not forgotten the promises he’s made about what he’s going to do. He still intends to do them, it takes time.”
In regards to the upcoming hurricane season, Mr Newbold said: “The government will do what it has to do to help those people. During the last hurricane the government took most of them off that island.
“Who knows what will happen if God forbid we have another hurricane like that. Hopefully we won’t but that may have to happen again. But the government is mindful of what it must do with regards to the people from Ragged Island and it will do so.”