Public-Private sector approach to Hurricane Matthew speedy restoration, says Gibson

The Minister responsible for Hurricane Relief and Restoration the Hon Shane Gibson said it is going to take a public-private sector approach towards a speedy recovery in the wake of the powerful Hurricane Matthew.

Mr. Gibson, who is the Minister of Labour, National and Minister of the Public Service was appointed by the Rt Hon Perry Christie, Prime Minister immediately following the passage of the storm to spearhead the massive recovery efforts.

On Monday, October 17, at Diplomatic Week conference at the Melia resort on Cable Beach, Mr. Gibson addressed the Diplomatic Corp on the topic: “The Magnitude of Damage Caused by Hurricane Matthew and what’s needed for speedy Recovery”.

See below his speech at that event:

Ladies and Gentlemen,
This is the second consecutive year that The Bahamas has been severely impacted by a hurricane. Hurricane Joaquin, a Category 4 storm, impacted islands in the Central and Southeast Bahamas from 30th September to 2nd October, 2015, resulting in major damages on five (5) of our Family Islands, Acklins, Crooked Island, Long Island, Rum Cay and San Salvador.

Now, one year later, Hurricane Matthew, moved through our islands between October 4-6, 2016, as a Category 3 system in New Providence and as a Category 4 storm in West End, Grand Bahama and North Andros; severely impacting the lives of residents.

Our capital city, Nassau, is located on the island of New Providence where the majority of our population resides. All of the amenities and institutions that are found in a capital city are located on New Providence.

It is the seat of Government; it is the island that welcomes the majority of visitors for as you know, Tourism is our main industry. Our principal international airport is located on New Providence and the majority of cruise ships call on the port of Nassau. Financial Services is our second major industry and the majority of the financial institutions are located in New Providence.

Moreover, New Providence is also the link with our Family Islands through mail boat services, private charter airlines and our very own national flag carrier, Bahamasair.

Domestic air travel and shipping services to the Family Islands originate from New Providence. The Broadcasting Corporation of The Bahamas, which provides radio and television services to the entire Bahamas, is located on New Providence.

Grand Bahama is the second largest island in the Commonwealth of The Bahamas and the second most populated. It is also the home of our second major city, that of Freeport. Grand Bahama is the industrial hub of The Bahamas; The Bahamas Oil Refining Company International Limited, (BORCO) is the largest storage terminal in the Caribbean. The Freeport Container Port is also located on Grand Bahama. Several other industries of a smaller scale are based on Grand Bahama.

You therefore can appreciate the challenge we are facing as Hurricane Matthew caused extensive damages to the two major islands which house our two major cities, the two islands where the bulk of our population resides and that two islands responsible for the major economic activity of our country.

The north portion of the island of Andros, which is the largest in our archipelago, was also severely damaged by Hurricane Matthew, particularly the small settlement of Lowe Sound with just about 700 people.

New Providence, Grand Bahama and North Andros received extensive damages to homes, buildings and infrastructure from storm surges and excessive flooding.

Teams comprising representatives from the Ministry of Works and Urban Development the Department of Social Services, the Urban Renewal Programme and the Royal Bahamas Defence Force are conducting door-to-door assessments and we should shortly have preliminary data on the number of homes and buildings destroyed or damaged and the severity of the damages. We are already aware however that the majority of homes in Lowe Sound have been extensively damaged or destroyed and a number of residents had to be relocated.

Prior to the arrival of Hurricane Matthew, technical experts warned of the potential of storm surge especially along with southern portion of New Providence. In addition to the damages caused by the high winds, the storm surge also caused considerable water damages to a large number of homes and extensive flooding in several communities.

Utility services were extensively and widely disrupted in the three impacted islands due to the
damages to power lines and poles. Bahamas Power and Light Company Limited, BPL, as of
Sunday, October 16, reported restoring power to more than 80 percent of residential customers
on New Providence and is aiming to be closer to full restoration by the end of the week.

Grand Bahama Power Company (GBPC) has moved with haste to replace fallen poles and repair transmission and distribution infrastructure, and as of Wednesday, October 12 2016, power has been restored to some 4,000 customers with increasingly more homes and businesses being reconnected to the power grid in the City of Freeport.

The company is currently being assisted by its international partners and accordingly, 200 additional support staff and 100 additional emergency vehicles to supplement its on-island workforce have arrived in Grand Bahama.

In New Providence, technical teams from sister Caribbean countries facilitated through The Caribbean Electric Utility Services Corporation (CARILEC) are assisting with the restoration of power in New Providence and North Andros.

RECOVERY
Firstly, for speedy recovery we need a full and complete assessment of the damages and this process is underway.

Secondly, there is need for a strong coordinating mechanism and in this regard, I have been designated Minister with responsibility for Hurricane Relief and Restoration.

Thus far, the team assisting me includes a coordinator for both Andros and Grand Bahama here in New Providence; ground coordinators have also been identified in Grand Bahama and North Andros.
Both the public and private sectors will have to be involved in the recovery process.

The Government has signed an Exigency Order that allows for the duty free importation of building materials, vehicles, furniture and other items that were lost or damaged due to the hurricane. This will assist persons with the replacement of these items.

The Government has identified a number of programmes to assist persons in facilitating repairs to their homes. These will include repairs for qualified homeowners, the provision of materials for the repair of homes and small loans for certain qualified persons without insurance.

The Government will have to work with the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce on strategies and programmes to assist small businesses in restarting so as to get the local economy moving again especially on Grand Bahama and North Andros.

We will have to demonstrate that while The Bahamas was impacted by Hurricane Matthew, we are open for business and the best demonstration of this was the fact that several cruise ships were in port on Sunday, October 9, 2016, three days after the passage of Hurricane Matthew.

Again, realizing the mammoth task in rebuilding these severely damaged communities, the Government is aware of the role the Diplomatic Corp and values our relations with countries such you, in this massive restoration process.

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