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Tests of preparedness

Published: May 24, 2013

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New Providence is the main island of The Bahamas where about two thirds of the population of the country lives.  The island is fortunate in that it is rarely hit by major hurricanes even though these storms pass through our waters almost annually.

On Tuesday night, heavy rain in New Providence led to significant flooding.  Homes in Camperdown, Nassau East South, Pinewood, Elizabeth Estates and several other neighborhoods were damaged.

The major cause of the problem was simply the amount of rain that fell in such a short time.  The Department of Meteorology recorded 12.79 inches of rain at Elizabeth Estates Police Station and 15.29 inches in Camperdown.

All along eastern New Providence, stalled-out and abandoned cars were on the streets.  At the intersection to Camperdown at Culbert’s Hill, cars were nearly fully submerged.  Vehicles could almost not travel past the entrance to Treasure Cove at Yamacraw Hill Road.

While the amount of rain was significant, we should also examine what occurred after the fact to help improve our disaster response for when we are hit by a major storm.

The drainage system in New Providence is not maintained as it should be.  It is important to keep drains clear regularly so that when storms come the water has somewhere to go besides in homes and businesses.  In some areas additional drainage measures – including new drains – may be needed.  If New Providence is hit by a major wet hurricane our poorly maintained and inadequate drainage system would contribute to flooding that could be catastrophic.

Former Minister of State for the Environment Phenton Neymour told The Nassau Guardian that the lack of town planning by successive governments exacerbated the floods this week.  He suggested that the government should set aside a portion of its capital budget each year, around $20 million to $30 million, to construct proper drainage and sewerage systems.

“New Providence in particular has developed significantly over the years, in construction and population, but yet our drainage and sewerage facilities have not kept pace with that,” he said.

“Since 1973, our population has doubled and yet our sewerage facilities are still the same as they were 20 years ago.”

Additionally, when it comes to hurricanes, Bahamians stay informed via local weather information and The Weather Channel in the United States.  However, the system of alerts for severe thunderstorms in The Bahamas, which emerge quicker, needs revamping.

The Department of Meteorology sends alerts out to the media via email and fax.  But these can get lost in the inbox or at the machine.  Also, we should not assume that because a weather report comes on ZNS news on TV and radio that people will be informed.  Fewer and fewer people watch the deteriorating products presented by ZNS news.  A new mechanism of alerts is needed.

National Emergency Management Agency Director Stephen Russell said after the storm that it is time to interject emergency broadcast messages on cable television and radio to reach more people.  He is correct.  Listeners and viewers are all over the media landscape.  The emergency message should be sent all over to ensure that people are informed.

The government and its agencies should always do an analysis after these storms to learn in order to bolster our emergency response system.  We live in a hurricane zone.  We must be as prepared as possible in order to save the lives and property of our people.

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