Bahamas Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis
(Source: Caribbean News Now)

Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis on Tuesday night ordered an unprecedented emergency evacuation of the southern islands of The Bahamas, warning that Hurricane Irma poses a “dire threat” to the residents on those islands.

During a press conference at the Office of the Prime Minister, Minnis said those residents who stay behind “place themselves in potentially great danger from this monster hurricane”.

“Do not put your life and those of your loved ones at unnecessary risk,” Minnis urged. “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.”

The order will affect Mayaguana, Inagua, Crooked Island, Acklins, Long Cay (MICAL) and Ragged Island. Residents will be flown to New Providence.

Irma, a Category 5 storm with wind speeds up to 185 miles per hour, is expected to hit the southern islands on Thursday.

Minnis warned residents in the southern Bahamas that wind speed, rain and expected storm surge make Irma 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,” Minnis said.

“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 begin early tomorrow morning (Wednesday) 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.”

Minnis said evacuations will be completed by Wednesday evening.

He said that residents should bring identification with them, including a passport, national insurance card and voter’s card, as well as medication, clothing and toiletries adequate for several days.

“For those who do not have such accommodations, the Kendal G.L. Isaacs National Gymnasium will be used as a major shelter for those evacuated from MICAL and Ragged Island,” Minnis said.

He noted that the Roman Catholic Archdiocese has agreed to the use of Loyola Hall on Gladstone Road as a major shelter.

Minnis said the shelters will be adequately staffed and will be secured by police.

Opposition leader Philip Brave Davis, who was seated next to Minnis during the press conference, is lending support and advice, the prime minister said.

“This is a time for national unity,” Minnis said.

“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.”

Over 900 to be evacuated

Captain Stephen Russell, who heads NEMA, said a little over 900 residents were expected to be evacuated on Wednesday.

Russell said island administrations on the southern islands have indicated that 82 people from Acklins have volunteered to be evacuated; 55 from Crooked Island; 155 from Mayaguana; 55 from Ragged Island and 600 from Inagua.

Bahamasair, Pineapple Air and SkyBahamas are assisting the government.

“The residents who choose to remain on the island, they would have to make best use of current shelters that we have in place on those islands,” he said.

“If an opportunity is there to come out, I would urge people there to come out and not take a chance and risk their lives. Homes and furniture and appliances we can replace. There is no way in the world you can replace your life.”

Russell said the government is also considering evacuating Andros and Bimini, depending on the path of Irma.

“We have our eyes on Bimini,” he said.

“We’ve seen some models say it is going to take a 90 degree turn. If it makes the turn along the Florida Straits, Bimini is there in its sights. Bimini is just a sand bar to some extent. It’s just flat land and with surges expected at 25 feet, that can wash over the entire south and north Bimini.”