• Memorial site plan for Mudd and Pigeon Peas
• Shanty buildings ‘put lives in danger’
By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE government may create a memorial site where The Mudd and Pigeon Peas once stood as the country’s largest shanty town communities - and is also considering tent cities to get people back to Grand Bahama and Abaco, Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis said yesterday.
Cabinet is eying the solution as a way to pay respects to the people who died there during Hurricane Dorian. Meanwhile, Cabinet is ironing out plans to erect large tent cities on hurricane ravaged islands to faciliate the relocation of evacuees back to their communities.
With debris still widely scattered in the decimated shanty towns, an account of how many bodies lay beneath the rubble remains elusive. A Haitian advocacy group, the United Haitian Community Front, has said more than 300 people from the communities are listed as missing following the storm.
In the days after Hurricane Dorian, some residents spoke openly about wanting to rebuild the shanty towns, prompting the government to issue a prohibition order on Sunday to prevent construction of residential and business structures for six months.
“Buildings on The Mudd and Pigeon Peas were inferiorly built and they were not set up for disaster, flooding and hurricanes and they were not built according to safety codes,” Dr Minnis said yesterday. “Individual’s lives and health were in danger in those facilities.”
Dr Minnis was speaking to reporters following a meeting with Alden McLaughlin, the premier of the Cayman Islands.
“We want to ensure people are properly housed and not exposed to all the elements,” he said. “We’re discussing the matter at Cabinet now and we think it might be appropriate to declare those areas some sort of memorial site in respect for those who would’ve died in those particular areas.”
The urgent need to get storm evacuees back to their islands will spur the temporary creation of tent cities and man camps in Abaco and Grand Bahama, Dr Minnis said.
Cabinet and technocrats are finalising details of the plan but the prime minister suggested moving evacuees back to communities that feature essential services, such as schools, is the main priority of his administration.
“Manpower will be necessary. We must rebuild and they must be a part of that. They were employed there also,” he said.
Man camps would house contractors and their staff working to rebuild and clean up the islands. Tent cities featuring bathroom, recreation and cafeteria amenities will be up and available for what he hopes to be no longer than a year, he added.
“That can only remain up for a certain period of time because after six months to a year those individuals will become agitated and want to move into a different type of facility and therefore we would take that into consideration knowing that this is just a transitional phase. We’re hoping to have the man camp and the tent city completed very, very quickly so we can mobilise individuals and return them back,” he said.
Attorney General Carl Bethel said tent cities could feature family-sized tents with internal dividers, communal toilets and shower facilities.
“One tent emplacement will be for single men. The other for families. The intention is to have secured areas, with police law enforcement presence,” he said.
Long-term, he envisions the government constructing basic housing units, “preferably on stilts to give better durability in storm conditions.”
“Such developments will naturally have private sector involvement and the requirement that over time there be some financial contribution towards the cost of the land and the development of new communities,” he said. “But the details of that have yet to be worked out.”
Stressing discussions are preliminary, he said the destruction of The Mudd and Pigeon Peas shows the low-lying areas are unsafe for human habitation in the face of powerful storms.
“There is a need to build further inland and on higher ground,” he said. “I must emphasise that I am not making any statement on the ultimate land use of those affected areas, whether for residential or other purposes. That is the job of the minister of environment. Today the central government must decide how and where to house affected populations in the immediate aftermath of a catastrophe. It is entirely impractical to even look at disaster zones at this time so we must look elsewhere in the short to medium-term.”
The Cayman Islands donated medical supplies to the Bahamas government yesterday. Earlier, India’s High Commissioner, M. Sevala Naik, presented a donation of $1m, with his country becoming the latest among governments and celebrities to do so.
It is not clear how much in monetary donations the government has received. Dr Minnis said Cabinet is still discussing how the funds will be used to help people, saying attention must be given to building needs and the psychological welfare of affected residents.
Dr Minnis said no matter how the donations are used, the public will get a proper accounting of the funds distribution.
“We’ve added an accountant to NEMA and additional financing staff so as to monitor what is received,” he said. “We have a private accounting team that will do the necessary auditing to ensure transparency and accountability and they will report directly to the nation on a monthly basis as to the monies that were received and spent so we will have overt accountability because the one thing I don’t want, I don’t want no one calling me no thief.”
After Hurricanes Joaquin and Matthew devastated central and southern islands in 2015 and 2016, the Christie administration created a programme to rebuild and repair the homes of elderly, disabled and single parents whose properties suffered substantial damage.
Following Hurricane Irma in 2017, the Minnis administration gave $4,000 per household to those affected in Ragged Island.
Some officials believe the magnitude of destruction from Dorian makes direct monetary donations impractical and officials are discussing various ways to incentivise rebuilding on the island, The Tribune understands.