By MORGAN ADDERLEY
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE National Emergency Management Agency has now issued more than $90,000 in financial assistance to Ragged Island households in the wake of the devastation caused by Hurricane Irma last year.
Last month, NEMA director, Captain Stephen Russell, and other officials visited the island and issued more than $70,000 in cheques to 18 households on behalf of the government.
During a press conference held yesterday, Captain Russell revealed since that visit, the government has provided the maximum amount of $4000 per household to five more Ragged Islanders, bringing the told amount of aid provided thus far to $92,000.
The NEMA director added more people have contacted NEMA saying their properties were not assessed. He said government officials are going to follow up those claims to ensure these were owner-occupied properties at the time of Hurricane Irma, in accordance with policy.
Captain Russell also reiterated the government cannot lift the "uninhabitable" status from the island until key infrastructure such as a clinic and school have been rebuilt. However, he said the Ministry of Works has completed the plans for these structures.
"We've provided assistance to an additional five persons," Captain Russell said. "So 23 persons (total).
"I've had a number of persons who've came into the office (and) called into the office during the past two weeks saying that they were not assessed."
Captain Russell said these individuals were not on the island during NEMA's visit, and the organisation doesn't "necessarily" go onto private properties if the owners are not present.
"They came and we're going to follow up with the Ministry of Works and the local council in Ragged Island to confirm that those…were owner-occupied properties at the time of the event.
"And it's one thing to have a home on the island as your winter or your summer home, away from home. But the policy calls for owner-occupied property at the time of the event. And once we can verify that, that they evacuated from the island and never went back because nothing was (there), we can find out how we can best assist them."
In an interview with The Tribune last month, Restoration Ragged Island Association Chairman Ellery Lockhart called for the prime minister to "reconsider" the uninhabitable status of the island.
Captain Russell said he has also discussed this matter with association officials.
"My response then was we cannot, unless the basic infrastructure is in place and key persons are in place. In fact, they are asking for a house so the doctor can come back or the nurse.
"In terms of a nurse and a doctor, the police, social services, school for the kids…unless those basic institutions or structures are in place, it's hard for the government to sanction it as liveable."
Captain Russell described a medical situation involving a young man on Ragged Island who was stuck with a rusty nail. The injured person had to be flown to a hospital in Nassau and has been trying to recover "ever since".
"Had a nurse or doctor been on the island initially, it might have minimised the overall effect. So, until facilities are in place for (medical personnel) to stay, it's difficult for us to…lift the status on that particular island at this time."
However, Captain Russell said plans for the re-establishment of these essential services are complete. He expressed hope the next stage of the initiative could begin by October.
"Again, after being in contact with officials from the Ministry of Works, they have to complete some drawings to replace the school, the police station, the administrator's office, as well as the clinic," he said.
"Those four structures, plans would have been completed for them. It's just a matter of being approved and funds being directed to rebuild these facilities.
"Hopefully they can get started as early as next month. It has to go through the (tender) process and the appropriate persons are selected to complete these projects."