By DENISE MAYCOCK
Tribune Freeport Reporter
SENATOR Kwasi Thompson said going through Hurricane Dorian was “a life-changing experience” for him and many in Grand Bahama and Abaco, which were left devastated in the wake of the monster storm.
“Hurricane Dorian was undoubtedly the most devastating natural disaster we have ever seen in the Bahamas, having – in fact – been recorded as one of the most powerful storms in modern history,” he said during his contribution in the Senate this week.
“Indeed, Dorian was an experience like no other. We have faced storms and restored before, but none like this. Unprecedented damage not only to infrastructure, but unfortunately the loss of lives and psychological trauma that this storm caused.”
According to Senator Thompson, some locations in Grand Bahama were estimated to have experienced over 20ft storm surge, which affected some 400 businesses and 8,000 to 9,000 homes which were damaged by the flooding. Many of the homes have been completely destroyed, he said.
Mr Thompson indicated that areas such as Lady Lake, Fortune Bay Drive, Clearwater Cove, Arden Forest, over the Bridge and East Grand Bahama communities experienced the worst impact on the island.
Although there has been catastrophic destruction and devastation, Senator Thompson believes that it has provided the opportunity to strategically rebuild both islands and restructure the way government addresses disasters.
He said: “Grand Bahama has long proven its resiliency, having been rattled by numerous major hurricanes – Frances, Jean, Wilma, Matthew. And while recovery is not an overnight process, Grand Bahamians worked tirelessly to rebuild after each setback.
“The homeowners, business owners, service providers and community stakeholders in Grand Bahama have a glowing reputation of supporting one another and restoring some semblance of normalcy.”
He said that Hurricane Dorian has shown first hand that changes must be made in the Disaster Preparedness response plans.
Senator Thompson said as a result the government has moved to urgently amend the Disaster Preparedness and Response Act.
The Bill, he said, encompasses:
The deletion of the words “emergency” and “emergencies” throughout the document so that disasters covered by the Bill are distinguished from national disaster emergencies referred to in Article 29 of the Constitution.
The insertion of new sections 27A to 27D in Clause 16 into the principal Act to provide for evacuation and disaster orders. These orders would cover a range of activities or prohibitions for the protection of the health and safety of persons in the area stated in the order. It includes evacuations from areas specified in the order, curfews, restrictions and movement of certain persons in certain areas and the taking of possession or control of any property necessary for the management or mitigation of the disaster. The Prime Minister may also make an order declaring relief from the disaster. This relief shall include a rebate of business licence fees, waiver of value added tax, exemptions from excise tax or tariff tax and waiver of any other fee, levy or tax payable under any law.
In the area of relief, Mr Thompson added that the Government has implemented a number of tax relief exemptions.
The exigency Order has been extended to December 31st.
The Prime Minister will also designate Grand Bahama and Abaca as special recovery zones.
Mr Thompson commended ordinary citizens who came together in amazing acts of heroism. “These were in places in East End, over the bridge, Lady Lake, some of which I witnessed personally. In the midst of great tragedy came impossible miracles,” he said.
He also recognized those on the emergency management team, consisting of members of local government, NEMA personnel, various heads of department, utility company reps, GBPA, police, and Defence Force, and the Meteorological office.
“All of these members ought to be commended. I served with them shoulder-to-shoulder before, during and after the storm..
“During the storm we locked down and shifted to rescuing those we could when we could,” he said.