MONDAY MORNING UPDATE: Demolition work is underway in the Kool Acres community.
By LETRE SWEETING
Tribune Staff Reporter
DEMOLITION of the Kool Acres community will still proceed today despite the blaze that tore through the shanty town on Saturday engulfing more than 70 homes and destroying numerous belongings and personal items.
Ten firefighters and three fire trucks were dispatched to address the fire and they worked into the night trying to contain the blaze, which started around 4pm that day.
Ministry of Works officials on the scene of the fire said it burned through about 77 structures or 80 percent of the unregulated community, resulting in the destruction of a shanty town that had been in existence for more than 20 years.
Several structures in the shanty town had been marked for demolition today, with eviction notices having been posted for the residents last month by officials of the Unregulated Communities Task Force.
In a press statement released following the fire, the Unregulated Communities Task Force said it visited the shantytown at 10am on Saturday to conduct a “comprehensive examination of the area”, to ensure the community was clear for demolition.
“This process involved removing all persons, hazardous items, and important documents to guarantee the safety of the community. By 1pm, the Kool Acres subdivision was officially declared vacant.”
On the scene of the fire several hours later, Craig Delancey, a member of the task force and the Buildings Control officer with the Ministry of Works said: “We were about to start the demolition on Monday morning, now we’d have to do clean-up and continue with the removal of the remainder.”
He said the cause of the fire is unknown and authorities are investigating, however demolition plans are expected to continue as scheduled.
No casualties or injuries have been reported. However, washers, dryers, stoves, clothes, toys and other items could be seen in burned piles spread throughout the remains of the community. Mr Delancey said these items were those left behind by the evacuated residents.
“It’s not that they’re without everything. They have evacuated. I would say 99 percent of them have left the place,” he said.
Along with firefighters, Ministry of Works officials and police officers, many Bahamian residents of the area, some evacuated residents of the shanty town gathered outside the community.
Ketteny Lafrance, a former resident of one of the burned structures and a mother of two school-age children, said though she had already moved out of the community, she feels “terrible” watching the sight of her former home going up in flames. She said she is still looking for somewhere for her family to stay.
Referring to Ministry of Social Services officials, Ms Lafrance said: “They took names, but they never called anyone. They only took names. I will find some place. I will find a place to stay.”
Weeks earlier, Ms Lafrance had been taken into custody by Immigration officials, while the officers were in the community posting eviction notices. After determining her documents were in order, she was later released to be with her underaged children who had been left behind.
Another resident of the community known as Chantill, who was not home when the fire broke out, said when he arrived sometime after 4pm and saw fire, he quickly left.
When asked to describe how many structures he saw on fire, he said: “I can’t count.”
He said a lot of the community’s residents had already left, and some people had just been squatting in the structures that had burned.
Police representatives of the Unregulated Communities Task Force have issued a strong warning to the evacuated residents of the Kool Acres shanty town not to form any unregulated structures elsewhere.
“Under section 4(1) of the Buildings Regulation Act Chapter 200, it is an offence to commence any building operations except in accordance with the conditions of a valid building permit and in accordance with the provisions of this Act, any rules and the Building Code.
“Any person who acts in contravention of the provisions of this section shall be guilty of an offence and liable upon summary conviction to a fine not exceeding $1,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or to both such fine and imprisonment.”
In May, Chief Justice Ian Winder ordered the demolition of two shanty town structures, far fewer than the 260-plus the administration wanted destroyed. This forced the Davis administration to rely on the minister of works to initiate a process under the Buildings Regulation Act.