Residents urged to be responsible this hurricane season amid scarce resources

By Theresa Goodwin

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Disaster officials are urging residents to prioritize their health and safety – and take all possible measures to protect property – with the hurricane season just two days away.

National Office of Disaster Services (NODS) Director Philmore Mullin made the appeal yesterday, stressing that the Covid-19 pandemic has strained the country’s economy and NODS’s ability to attract funds. This will affect the level of assistance the agency will be able to provide to people affected by hurricanes or other disasters, he warned.

“The other issue is the support partners who normally provide assistance to affected states. They too are somewhat challenged at the moment in the face of the Covid situation in their respective countries. Even if they were able to help us, they couldn’t do it on the same scale, ”said Mullin.

“The number of countries that make up the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA), too, face their own challenges. Therefore, we ask Antiguans and Barbudians to be more responsible and think outside the box and do things that can protect life and physical integrity, ”explained Mullin.

The limited supply of water to ensure those occupying a shelter are able to practice good hygiene is another issue the agency will have to overcome.

Mullin said, “We are doing our best to take steps to make sure there is water in the shelters at all times. We have two categories of shelters – the first category where occupants arrive before an impact and leave shortly after, and the second category which is more for long term stays.

“During the actual impact, we would like to make sure that we have sufficient disinfection equipment in the category one shelter as well as in category two,” said Mullin.

In light of this, the boss of NODS wants residents, who may live in vulnerable areas, to seek refuge with friends and family first. Public shelters should be the last resort.

The agency is currently working with the Antigua Christian Council, the Antigua and Barbuda Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and the Department of Public Works and Housing to identify additional spaces that can be converted into shelters to ensure adhering to social distancing protocols and reducing the possibility of people contracting Covid-19.

Officials from the Ministry of Public Works have started the process of inspecting existing shelters to ensure they are ready. It is not yet known how many new shelters will be made available.

According to Mullin, 55 to 60 shelters would be ideal. Last year, they were 43.

Meanwhile, the director of NODS also spoke about the practice of some residents who previously abandoned elderly and physically disabled parents in shelters long after the danger subsided.

Mullin said that over the years the agency has been forced to issue public appeals for people to come and pick up their loved ones, long after the shelters officially closed.

He said it would not be tolerated in 2020.

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