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By Theresa Goodwin

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Disaster officials are admonishing residents to prioritise their health and safety – and take every action possible to protect property – with hurricane season now just two days away. 

Director of the National Office of Disaster Services (NODS), Philmore Mullin, issued the appeal yesterday, while stressing that the Covid-19 pandemic has placed a significant strain on the country’s economy and NODS’ ability to attract funds. This will affect the level of assistance the agency will be able to offer to those affected by hurricanes or other catastrophes, he warned.

“The other issue is that of support partners that normally provide assistance to impacted states. They too are somewhat challenged at this time dealing with the Covid situation in their respective countries. Even if they are in a position to come to our aid, they would not be able to do so on the same scale,” Mullin said.

“The number of countries that make up the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA), they too are facing their own challenges. Therefore, we are asking Antiguans and Barbudans to be more responsible and to think outside the box and do those things that can protect life and limb,” Mullin explained.

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

Mullin said, “We are doing our level best to take some steps to ensure that there is water at the shelters at all times. We have two categories of shelters – category one where the occupants come prior to an impact and leave shortly after, and category two which is more for long-term stay.

“During the actual impact we would want to ensure that we have sufficient sanitisation equipment at the category one shelter as well as the category two,” Mullin said.

In light of this, the NODS boss wants residents, who may live in vulnerable areas, to first seek shelter with friends and family. State 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 Ministry of Works and Housing to identity additional spaces which can be converted into shelters to ensure that social distancing protocols are adhered to and reduce the possibility of people contracting Covid-19.

Public Works Department officials have started the process of inspecting existing shelters to ensure they are in a state of readiness. 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, there were 43.

Meanwhile, the NODS director also spoke out about the practice of some residents who have previously abandoned elderly and physically challenged relatives in shelters, long after the danger has passed.

Mullin said over the years the agency has been forced to made public appeals to people to collect their loved ones, way after the shelters have officially closed.

He said this will not be tolerated in 2020.

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