There is “little to no doubt” that had the residents of Ragged Island not been evacuated, the death toll due to Hurricane Irma would have increased, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis said today.
Forty people were evacuated ahead of Hurricane Irma.
“Had the evacuation not occurred, we could have lost a generation of Ragged Islanders,” Minnis said in the House of Assembly as he announced that the small southeastern island will be rebuilt into the “region’s first fully green island”.
More than 30 deaths were reported due to Hurricane Irma across the Caribbean and in Florida.
“That we have been spared the loss of life of Bahamian brothers and sisters, especially from Ragged Island is most fortunate and is the result of taking emergency action to evacuate the residents of our most southeastern island,” Minnis added.
He said he instructed the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) to develop an evacuation manual that would guide future evacuations. The government was expected to introduce a bill to provide for mandatory evacuations in the House of Assembly today, but Minnis said the government will allow for a period of public consultation before the bill is presented to Parliament.
He said the government holds the view that there is a need to legally require mandatory evacuations in light of the “super storms that we are now experiencing with some frequency.”
The government evacuated roughly 1,200 people from Mayaguana, Inagua, Crooked Island, Acklins, Long Cay and Ragged Island. Another 365 people were evacuated from Bimini.
Noting that Ragged Island has been deemed uninhabitable, Minnis said the government will undertake a massive cleanup exercise on the island. He said only then will the recovery begin.
The eye of Hurricane Irma passed directly over Ragged Island, destroying multiple homes, public infrastructure and government facilities.
The remaining residents of Ragged Island, who want to leave, will be evacuated by Thursday, Minnis said. The residents who were evacuated previously will have an opportunity to return and retrieve their valuables.
“I assure the wonderful people of Ragged Island that their island will be rebuilt,” Minnis continued.
“In partnership with the residents of Ragged Island, my government proposes to transform Ragged Island into the first fully green island in the region, utilizing renewable energy and smart technologies from solar energy to sustainable water purification systems.
“To do this, Mr. Speaker, we seek all Bahamians’ help, international assistance, assistance of all friends of Ragged Island and friends of The Bahamas.
“Out of the devastation and the destruction, a new Ragged Island will emerge, including stronger building codes, improved zoning and strategies to mitigate against climate change and rising sea levels.
“Ragged Island can emerge as a new model for sustainable communities throughout The Bahamas and the region.
“We will work with private institutions, international agencies and foreign partners to create at Ragged Island a more sustainable island community.
“We know by faith and the experience of history that out of tragedy can often come new life; despair can be transformed into hope.”