By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Deputy Chief Reporter
FOR the next five days there will be free evacuation flights on Bahamasair from Abaco and Grand Bahama to Nassau, Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis announced on Thursday night.
In an interview aired on the CNN television show "Anderson Cooper 360", the Prime Minister said the government would absorb the costs associated with these evacuations.
The information was not shared with local press prior to his interview and neither did he make clear how many flights would be available to each of the affected islands, or if there was a daily evacuation limit.
There has been some confusion about whether flights were free, with some outraged people venting their anger on Bahamasair’s Facebook page today.
“Absolutely disgusting,” one Facebook user wrote. “Bahamasair flew into Treasure Cay and begun charging people $75 to be evacuated after Dorian. These people lost everything and then they get charged to get to a safe place? I genuinely could not believe it when I saw what was happening. Bahamasair makes a staggering profit and can’t be bothered to help Bahamian citizens.”
Another wrote: “They should be ashamed for charging locals attempting to evacuate $75 after already being devastated. Adding insult to injury; there is no justification. I am extremity disappointed with the way they handled this situation. I could not believe my eyes when they turned away a mother and her special needs child from boarding because she didn’t have the ticket fare after going through hell. Shameful.”
However, the airline later released a statement, adding that previous communications about relief flights had been “misinterpreted”.
“Bahamasair wishes to advise the public that we have resumed service into Treasure Cay, Abaco, yesterday,” the statement said. “We will commence emergency relief flights for Freeport as soon as we get the all clear.
“For those who may have misinterpreted our earlier communications, we confirm that all persons wishing to leave Abaco will be provided passage free of charge. We trust that this will clarify any earlier communications.”
One Facebook user said he will be demanding a refund from Bahamasair: "I paid, have my receipt, which I will be sending to them for a refund. If it's one thing I dislike (it is) being called is a liar. Purchased two one-way tickets for $76.16 each."
When he spoke to CNN’s Anderson Cooper last night, Dr Minnis revealed further details about the evacuation process.
He said: "I’ve given the executive order for Bahamasair, our national airline carrier, once the aircraft starts its regular route we would increase the flight service to both Abaco and Grand Bahama. And for the next five days those individuals who want to come to the capital with family members, we would try to accommodate them with other housing needs.
"Those individuals would be able to fly to the capital free so the government would be able to absorb that charge, that cost over the next five days, to try to help and accommodate all individuals who want to leave to New Providence."
Asked about his recent telephone call with US President Donald Trump, Dr Minnis praised the US' efforts, saying that if were it not for them more people would have perished. At the time of his interview the death toll stood at 30.
“It was a very good conversation," he said of his talk with President Trump. "I was very surprised he opened the conversation by extending condolences to both myself and my family, because I’ve just had a brother die just two days ago and so I was dealing with both my brother and the country.
“And so he expressed condolences and he also expressed condolences to the entire Bahamian populace and that the United States would be available and would be there to assist us throughout this entire ordeal. And I must say that from day one the United States was in our territory, assisting us with all of our needs. Had it not been for the United States we would not have been this advanced in the entire process and I’m sure – even though our death numbers, we expect (them) to increase – had the United States not come in quickly, aggressively, and assisted us with the situation, our death numbers would be even more than what (will) be the final count.”