Grand Bahama Disaster Relief Foundation Established as Restoration Continues

The following is a press statement given by Sarah St. George, GBPA Vice Chairman on  Wednesday, 16 November, 2016:

It’s day 41 of Hurricane Matthew restoration and so, like the Bible, after 40 days and 40 nights we come to our Fifth and Final Hurricane briefing (not that we’re going to stop working!). As we approach the close of this stormy restoration chapter, we begin a new one of reconstitution – a return to a sense of normalcy.

What lessons have we learned?

Hurricane damage and the word ‘insurance’ has been on our lips. Is insurance important for homes and businesses – yes it is. Insurance reduces unforeseen risks and renders a catastrophe less catastrophic for each of us and society as a whole. An expert will tell you that when you can’t insure or choose not to pay your premium – you should instead set something aside and self-insure. But of course most of us can’t manage that and it’s another cost that gets pushed to the bottom of the pile. But then we’re at the mercy of the elements. So if there’s a way of making Business and Household insurance more affordable for everyone, that will be an excellent initiative. I’ve heard Mick Holding at the GB Chamber speak to that. Let no-one tell you insurance is not a cost of doing business – It is.

Next on Electricity – I’m pleased to introduce Archie Collins the Chief Operating Officer of the Grand Bahama Power Company. He will give the final power briefing today and confirm that the grid is now essentially 100% restored. Again I congratulate GBPC for their superb service to this island and also on their safety performance which was impeccable. Let none of us forget what it was like to be in the dark, or living on generators. Energy crews were cheered and hugged when lights went on. But no sooner are we on, than some are trying to scare us with the spectre of skyrocketing bills.

Be not afraid! In the next phase, the Power Company will sit down with our GBPA Regulation experts and we’ll go through the specifics in detail. I can assure you our prudent Operating Protocol & Regulatory Framework will dictate this is done over time with overall minimal or no impact to customers, so please don’t let sums like $25million alarm you. The truth is that not doing the reparations would have had a far, far higher cost to the island – some studies say 50 times higher. In fact we might never have recovered if this had been done in months rather than weeks. As Ian Rolle said last week; we are victors not victims! Do I hear Amen?!

On the water front, Ezekiel Hall will confirm we are back to pumping 8 million gallons per day as we did prior to the hurricane. As of today, you will hear that No water issues have arisen as a result of the hurricane and rainfall has freshened the aquifers. Once again, our city water is the safest and most reliable source of potable water in Grand Bahama.

You also heard about the mammoth cleanup operation and a bit about our state-of-the-art Pine Ridge Landfill and why it’s infinitely preferable to the old dump site – more so now than ever. Dump sites in general are a fire hazard, allow ground water contamination called ‘leachate’ or are a place where rodents can flourish. This hurricane generated mountains of man-made and organic waste – the organic can be ground into mulch. So we know how important it is to separate out “bulk waste” such as roofing, flooring, furniture, carpeting, and household appliances. The man-made garbage is compacted by machine to get as much material as possible into a given space. Lou Carroll explained why the landfill needs electricity because decomposition causes a foul-smell – methane gas – which is also a fire hazard. And how Sanitation Services monitors and extracts that gas to avoid fires.

On the ports of entry side, we have seen both the domestic and international Airport return to full operation and US pre-clearance resume, and the airport runway is being resurfaced. At the harbour, Carnival and other cruiseships have returned. And at the Container Port, the damaged cranes will be replaced by new super post-panamax cranes.

Deann Seymour and Nicole Colebrooke spoke to the resilience of our licensees and to GBPA initiatives which will be ongoing. Derek Newbold will address renewed confidence from investors abroad. As Deann said, we were knocked down but not knocked out. Our ability to bounce back, to get people back to work, to have most of our tourist attractions on track again, is a testament to the entire group of licensees, and to the island. I think we should all be proud of our accomplishments to date.

On Relief efforts right after the storm, 1,000 care packages were brought by our GBPA volunteers to residents of Hunters, Lewis Yard, Pinders Point and West End. Five and a half thousand bags of ice and other goods were distributed East to West. And generators, funds and food provided to our Senior Citizen Homes, the Childrens’ Home, Council for the Disabled and Columbus House for Teenagers. The next physical construction phase will be more about plywood and nails, felt and shingles, and all things about Roofs and Roofing like Eve’s Drip, and Suffet which I see on all lists – at first I thought was a food item but now I know better! And we are trying to tailor our efforts in this direction to see how best to assist. Part of our plan is helping two major schools and various churches as well as residents.

Most importantly, I am happy to announce that a project spear-headed by our Hurricane Relief Consultant Willie Moss and my brother Henry St George has borne fruit in the creation of ‘the Grand Bahama Disaster Relief Foundation’ which will be a multinational vehicle set up to provide charitable relief and assistance to this island  and its residents going forward. We have high hopes that this will help to bridge a funding gap in the medium and long-term. And we will continue to work closely with Social Services, NEMA and all other charitable organisations on the island. And while we are on the topic of rebirth, yesterday Henry was blessed with his second child, a boy – whose name will not be Matthew! Congratulations to both Henry and Florence his wife!

Again we deeply appreciate the support shown by everyone in the community.  We’d like to thank you for helping us to do our job during this very difficult time.   We know it has been extremely challenging and many have suffered tremendously. Our post-crisis Management Seminars with Government and Social Services highlighted this.  Albeit the fury of the hurricane, the pace of recovery has been incredible when compared with the past hurricanes – Frances, Jean and Wilma. We will all work together towards a grander vision and a Grander Bahama Island. May God Bless us all!

Thank you.

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