National Address on Hurricane Irma
Tuesday, 5 September, 2016
Office of the Prime Minister
Cecil Wallace-Whitfield Center - Nassau, The Bahamas
Fellow Citizens and Residents:
I report to you this evening that we are facing one of the potentially severest natural disasters in the modern history of The Bahamas.
Hurricane Irma may be one of the strongest hurricanes ever recorded!
On its current path, Hurricane Irma, which is currently a dangerous Category Five storm, with sustained winds of approximately 185 mph, poses a dire threat to Mayaguana, Inagua, Crooked Island, Acklins, Long Cay and Ragged Island.
The wind speed, rain and expected storm surge make this a potentially catastrophic hurricane. Accordingly, we must act quickly to protect lives, with a particular emphasis on the residents of the southern Bahamas, who are at the greatest risk.
I note that Irma may also bring severe weather to the Central Bahamas.
Leave has been suspended for members of the Royal Bahamas Police Force and the Royal Bahamas Defence Force.
Because of the potentially catastrophic effect and the potential loss of life resulting from Hurricane Irma, and after consultation with Cabinet colleagues, the National Emergency Management Agency and the Met Office -- the Government has taken the decision to institute an emergency evacuation to New Providence for the residents of MICAL and Ragged Island.
The emergency evacuation will be begin early tomorrow morning and will be conducted by aircraft.
To underscore the threat posed by Hurricane Irma, I note that this is the largest such evacuation in the history of the country.
We are advising in the strongest possible terms that the residents of MICAL and Ragged Island comply with the evacuation from their respective islands.
Let me be very clear: Those who refuse to evacuate, place themselves in potentially great danger from this monster hurricane, including from dangerously strong and high storm surges, which is one of the greatest threats from a hurricane.
Emergency personnel and assistance will be unavailable during the immediate impact of the hurricane for those in MICAL and Ragged Island who do not evacuate.
Furthermore, rescue and recovery may take an extended period of time for those who did not evacuate.
Let me again make the strongest plea possible to the residents of MICAL and Ragged Island to evacuate their respective areas.
Do not put your life and those of your loved ones at unnecessary risk. Do not be foolish and try to brave out this monster storm. The price you may pay for not evacuating is your life or serious physical harm.
With Hurricane Katrina in the United States and Hurricane Matthew last year, there were those who refused to evacuate.
As a result some people lost their lives in the U.S. Here at home, many lived through terror as their homes flooded and they feared for their lives and that of their loved ones, because they refused to evacuate.
As I stated at the NEMA press conference yesterday:
“Life is precious. We must make every effort to preserve and protect life, including the elderly, the indigent and other vulnerable individuals.”
The evacuation from the Southern Bahamas will be completed by tomorrow evening.
Those who agree to evacuate should secure and bring identification with them, including passports, NIB cards and voters cards, as well as medication, clothing and toiletries adequate for several days.
We are asking those who agree to evacuate, to contact family members, friends and church fellowships to accommodate them during their stay in New Providence.
For those who do not have such accommodations, the Kendal Isaacs National Gymnasium will be used as a major shelter for those evacuated from MICAL and Ragged Island.
The Roman Catholic Archdiocese has also generously agreed to the use of Loyola Hall on Gladstone Road as a major shelter.
These centers will be adequately staffed by various personnel, and will be secured by the Royal Bahamas Police Force.
Elective and non-emergency surgeries at the Princess Margaret Hospital will be cancelled to ensure that there is the necessary medical personnel to help staff various shelters.
The impending evacuation is part of the Government’s disaster preparedness and management plan.
We are working to ensure that the evacuations are completed as efficiently and as orderly as possible given the circumstances at hand and the possibility of the hurricane taking a different path than currently forecast.
We are receiving constant updates on the location and the potential impact of Hurricane Irma. We are also closely monitoring Tropical Storm Jose, which may develop into a hurricane by Friday.
As I stated yesterday:
“Bahamians and residents throughout the country need to monitor the location and proximity of Irma to the island or cay on which they live …
“Maritime traffic, fishermen and boaters should take all necessary precautions as Hurricane Irma approaches The Bahamas.”
Given the dynamic nature of a hurricane, all Bahamians, throughout our archipelago, should closely monitor the track of Hurricane Irma.
Fellow Bahamians and Residents:
This is a time for national unity. In this spirit, I have briefed the Leader of the Opposition on Hurricane Irma.
I have also invited the Leader of the Opposition to join me at the Office of the Prime Minister during the preparation for Hurricane Irma, and to offer his advice as the country faces the threat posed by this monster hurricane, including during the rescue and recovery stages after the storm passes.
Before I close, let me extend the prayers, best wishes and solidarity of the Bahamian people to our neighbours and Caricom partners in the Northern Caribbean who will shortly feel the impact of Hurricane Irma.
In the days ahead, I will call on the goodwill and generosity of Bahamians, at home and abroad, and residents, to offer whatever they can in terms of volunteerism, monetary and other resources to help those affected by Hurricane Irma.
I make a special plea to the media to offer full and informed coverage to keep Bahamians and residents abreast of the impact of the hurricane.
I note once again that “Bahamians and residents should avoid relying on sources of information which may be questionable or unreliable, especially potentially fake information circulated through social media.”
Please do not resend social media posts, which appear false or questionable. Let us avoid as much gossip and panic as possible.
I again thank the many departments, agencies, public officials, churches, NGOs and civil society partners involved in preparing for Hurricane Irma. Let us continue to move forward with resolve and courage.
May God continue to guide and strengthen us with the spirit of resilience and community in the hours, days and months ahead, as we work together in the spirit of love and unity.
Thank you and good evening.