By MORGAN ADDERLEY
Tribune Staff Reporter
NATIONAL Emergency Management Agency Director Captain Stephen Russell yesterday said the Ministry of Works should shortly be approving plans to rebuild key government infrastructure such as a police station, clinic, and island administrator’s office in Ragged Island.
Captain Russell said only after such key institutions are reinstated will government be able to lift the “uninhabitable” label from the island.
His remarks came as he warned the public not to let its guard down regarding hurricane preparedness, as the peak of the hurricane season is just beginning.
Hurricane Irma passed over Ragged Island as a Category 4 storm on September 8 last year. The hurricane wrought widespread devastation, and the island was subsequently declared “uninhabitable” by Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis.
Last week, Restoration Ragged Island Association Chairman Ellerly Lockhart called for the government to lift the unliveable status from the island. He added that the government’s refusal do so could be a contributing factor as to why residents may choose not to comply with a future evacuation notice.
In response to these comments, Captain Russell said if another major storm approaches, common sense should dictate to those at risk to evacuate.
“From what I’ve gathered, the government cannot lift that status because the basic infrastructure for government to support human life on the island (is not there),” he said.
“And I just saw the official report from Ministry of Works and made contact with the architect. They should be approving plans sometime this week (or early next week) for those key structures…the school, the clinic, the police station and the administrator’s office.
“Those are key institutions or facilities that government must have in place before they can officially say…the place is inhabitable or liveable.”
Captain Russell added it is not a matter of residents being “afraid” to leave, but said it is just “good sense” to leave.
“If they (are) refusing to leave if a major storm is approaching, the only thing left for government to do, is when they go back, if bodies are there to carry body bags. That’s the hard facts about it,” Capt Russell said.
“You’re not in a battle with government as to whether you’re going to leave, if it’s a major (hurricane) approaching your island. Common sense should (tell you) move out of the way.
“It’s not a matter of not being able to return. If you become a fatality in a major storm, does it really matter?”
Captain Russell noted the government has to oversee the repairs of more than a hundred government facilities nationwide that have been damaged by hurricanes in the last two years.
“These things take time, yes it’s a whole year. We’ve had three major storms – hurricanes Joaquin, Matthew and Irma… After Hurricane Matthew in 2016, the Ministry of Works had a listing of 117 government facilities and structures throughout the islands that needed some degree of repair, major repairs. Hurricane Irma added another 25-33 structures onto that list.
“So the Ministry of Works (is) trying to sift through a list of almost 150 structures. And then you had the school cycles come upon you, and you had to switch priorities and focus on getting the schools ready for the kids.
“Yes, they know the (situation) in Ragged Island, they want to get some things done.”
Last month, weeks ahead of the first year anniversary of Hurricane Irma, NEMA issued more than $70,000 in financial assistance to residents of Ragged Island.
Eighteen households received a maximum of $4,000 per household to further assist with recovery efforts.
Last week, Mr Lockhart told The Tribune that while residents “definitely” do not consider the money to be enough, they see it as a start.
In response to these comments, Captain Russell said home repairs are “not the government’s responsibility.”
“The whole idea is that it’s not the government’s responsibility to refurbish or repair homes. The government will provide some degree of assistance. We also encourage persons to get some degree of insurance for their property.
“Your home is one of your most prized possessions, and you must make provisions to secure your property as best you can for the hurricane season. It’s also on you to maintain your home.
“It’s not a matter of coming too late, once approval is granted, then we execute the payment. Based on not just NEMA, (but in) collaboration with the Ministry of Works, who have assessment leaders. And they gave us the data necessary.
“The government at the Cabinet level, they said that $4,000 is the maximum the government would grant to persons from Hurricane Matthew as well as Hurricane Irma.”
Regarding this hurricane season, Captain Russell said residents should “absolutely not” let their guards down.
“There are currently two storm systems in the Atlantic,” he said, noting Hurricane Florence in particular could be a “serious factor over the next 10 days, particularly within the US East Coast.”
“And also lined up on the coast of Africa, they showed some three other systems that are due to come off the coast of Africa during the course of the next week,” he added.
“So we are getting into the peak of the hurricane season, how can you let your guard down?”