By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Deputy Chief Reporter
HEALTH Minister Dr Duane Sands has expressed fears that the official death toll from Hurricane Dorian could reach “staggering” proportions.
He said the toll, officially at 30 up to press time, was already higher than officials expected.
“Let me say that I believe the number will be staggering,” Dr Sands said as a guest on 96.9FM’s “The Revolution”.
“…I have never lived through anything like this and I don’t want to live through anything like this again.”
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis said the government is focusing on a large-scale evacuation plan for storm victims as many people come to grips with Hurricane Dorian’s massive destruction. The evacuation plan, he said, was expected to be made public at some point today.
As for how the government plans to handle growing death numbers, Dr Sands insisted they were well equipped.
“We have the capacity,” he said. “We have an army of public health medical teams and environmental health teams to deal with dead animals, to deal with water contamination and to deal with dead bodies.
“We have morticians moving into Abaco and they will be a team of morticians to handle the remains of those in Grand Bahama. We’re not doing this on the basis of an unknown script. We are following the advice and guidance of international best practices in conjunction with the Pan American Health Organisation and the World Health Organisation,” Dr Sands said.
While the government will need to hastily formalise its evacuation strategy as conditions in the affected areas will continue to deteriorate, Dr Minnis stressed that safety and security remained a concern.
Yesterday, Dr Minnis said many factors needed to be considered and decided upon regarding evacuees.
This includes accommodations for evacuees and whether it is prudent to relocate them versus bringing necessary accommodations to affected islands.
Government officials said that non-profit organisation HeadKnowles evacuated at least 300 people from hard-hit Abaco yesterday.
“We are aggressively doing all we can at this particular time,” Dr Minnis told reporters yesterday following a meeting with Barbados’ Prime Minister Mia Mottley and Allen Chastanet, Saint Lucian prime minister.
When asked about a plan to relocate those in Abaco, Dr Minnis said: “We are going to address that. We have a committee that will be looking at accommodation.
“That is something that we discussed this morning (yesterday) and Allen the chairman of CARICOM, he and I will discuss that further because he’s had that challenge himself in his country. So we will discuss that further as to the value of relocation versus the value of bringing in the necessary accommodations and what type of accommodations are most appropriate for our nation.
“We will have a Cabinet meeting to discuss those matters and as usual we will keep the press and the nation abreast as to our daily progress and what we’re doing so we won’t hold back anything from you, we’ll keep you abreast hopefully tomorrow (Friday),” he said further of an evacuation plan.
Speaking of safety and security issues as reports of looting in Abaco continue, Dr Minnis said several CARICOM countries have pledged to deploy armed forces if need be.
This would be in addition to the 150 officers that will be sent to the country from Jamaica’s Defence Force.
“We are concerned with security issues,” Dr Minnis said. “We know electricity is gone therefore nights are especially a challenge.
“We have had meetings with the CARICOM team that is here - Prime Minister Mottley, Prime Minister Allen Chastanet, the chairman and the secretary general and the team from Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency.”
He continued: “Jamaica has promised us 150 personnel to assist on the ground with security. Trinidad has committed a number, Dominica would be willing to input if necessary. Barbados is willing. St Lucia is willing. Basically all of the Caribbean nations are willing to input with security to assist us because we all recognise that’s going to be a problem.
“Then we’ll have a meeting tomorrow (Friday) and then an emergency Cabinet where we’ll address the issue with the children.
“We will ensure that education of the kids in Abaco continues so we will address that tomorrow to ensure that there is no break in their education that is essential for us,” Dr Minnis said.