Cayman Islands

Cayman Islands: Government mobilises resources

News and Press Release
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Remarks by Hon. Kurt Tibbetts, JP, MLA Leader of Government Business, Weekly Cabinet Press Briefing, Thursday, 13 November 2008

This past weekend, our country was again visited by misfortune. While Grand Cayman escaped the full fury of Hurricane Paloma because of a last-minute shift to the east, our sister islands of Cayman Brac and Little Cayman were not so fortunate.

Both islands, especially Cayman Brac, suffered extensive property and other infrastructural damage. Several households were displaced. While some injuries were reported, fortunately there was no loss of life. For this we are most thankful to the Almighty. Property can be replaced quite easily. However, once a life is lost, it is gone forever.

When you consider the rapid speed with which Paloma developed, it can be said that this system crept up on us like the proverbial thief in the night. Following the passage of the hurricane between last Friday and Saturday, Government's main focus has been on mobilizing resources to ensure a speedy dispatch and delivery of relief to displaced residents on both Cayman Brac and Little Cayman. Minimal damage was done on Grand Cayman. As a result, life quickly returned to normal.

To get a first-hand view of the damage and to gain a better understanding of immediate needs, I went over to Cayman Brac on Sunday. I am planning to return this evening to spend the weekend to get a better feel of what is happening on the ground. From Government's perspective, the comfort and safety of displaced residents come first. That is the number one priority until we are able to restore full normalcy on both islands.

Based on the information I have gathered, what I have seen for myself, and also comments I have heard about the relief and recovery effort, I am satisfied that we are off to a flying start. This would not have been possible without effective coordination by the National Hazard Management Council and Hazard Management Cayman Islands, in collaboration with the Command Centre which has been set up by the Ministry of District Administration, Planning, Agriculture and Housing on Cayman Brac.

I wish to recognize the hard work of Mr. Donovan Ebanks, the chairman of the National Hazard Management Council, the deputy chairman Mr Orrett Connor, and their supporting team of dedicated public officers involved in the relief and recovery effort. They have gone beyond the call of duty and Government is very much indebted to them.

I also wish to thank the private sector, the NGO community, civil society and ordinary citizens for the spontaneous outpouring of public spiritedness. By pitching in to assist in various ways, they are making a substantial contribution to helping get both islands back on their feet. Overall, looking at how everything has gone, it seems the tough experience of Hurricane Ivan has taught us a few valuable lessons. As a result, we have improved on our capacity to respond effectively to disasters of this kind.

As the rebuilding will be a gradual process, it will take a while before life, as residents knew it, fully returns to normal on both islands. I cannot say how soon this will be, except to give an assurance that we would like to have the rebuilding completed as soon as is realistically possible. What I can say for sure is that it will not be done by sacrificing quality for speed. From the standpoint of infrastructure, we want a better and stronger Cayman Brac and Little Cayman to emerge from the reconstruction. A Cayman Brac and Little Cayman which will be better able to stand up to hurricanes and other natural disasters which may occur in the future.

To get displaced residents back under their own roofs, repairing damaged homes is obviously a high priority. Meantime, as a temporary measure, we are looking to send up to 28 trailer homes across to Cayman Brac. The first eight should have arrived yesterday. Restoration of vital public services is another high priority. For example, the Ministry of Education is aiming to have the high school reopened in another week or so. We are pursuing this objective to avoid any prolonged disruption of the education of our children, especially those preparing to write examinations.

Where employment in the reconstruction effort is concerned, Government is insisting that preference should be given to the residents of Cayman Brac and Little Cayman, as long as they are experienced and capable of doing the job. We believe this is only fair, especially in cases where persons have been displaced from their regular employment as a result of the hurricane.

To give a broad picture of how we have gone about this relief and recovery effort, I will now provide you with some details of the planning and execution phase. Before the all-clear was issued for Cayman Brac and Little Cayman, we already had arrangements in place here on Grand Cayman to ensure there was immediate action. We had been in touch with both sister islands during the event and had a reasonably good idea of what the immediate needs were.

As it turned out, the immediate needs were for additional police and fire officers, and health care personnel. The first batch of requested support personnel arrived on Saturday evening on a Cayman Airways Express flight. More arrived on Sunday and again on Monday morning after the runway on Cayman Brac was fully cleared, thus allowing landings by the larger 737 jets. Two police marine units, namely the Cayman Protector and the Cayman Defender, were also dispatched on Sunday. Building assessment personnel have also been dispatched from the Planning Department and the Public Works Department on Grand Cayman.

I wish to commend Cayman Airways for the vital role it has played in transporting not just key first response personnel but also key resources across to Cayman Brac and Little Cayman during this difficult time. As the national airline, Cayman Airways can always be relied upon to rise to the occasion. On behalf of the people of Cayman Brac and Little Cayman, I say thanks.

In terms of immediate material needs, food, water and medical supplies are high on the priority list. There is also a tremendous need for generators. Government has been sourcing them and sending them over as swiftly as we possibly can. This is ongoing. A distribution centre is up and running where food and other vital supplies can be obtained there between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. Additionally, four mobile teams are traversing the island systematically for approximately 18 hours a day distributing vital supplies and also assisting with the placement of tarpaulins.

The National Recovery Fund has been reactivated and fundraising efforts are underway. Private fundraising is also taking place. Restoration of electricity is proceeding gradually. The Faith Hospital and the District Administration Building were reconnected yesterday. Teams and equipment from Caribbean Utilities are on the ground assisting Cayman Brac Power and Light road crews with the restoration of power.

Tragedy somehow brings us closer together as a nation. We united and came to the aid of our brothers and sisters in Cayman Brac and Little Cayman this past week. For them, it was a tremendous source of comfort and reassurance. It told them they were not alone -- that their fellow countrymen care. I am confident that we will arise from this misfortune a much stronger nation. Our resilience came through during the experience with Hurricane Ivan. With God's help, it will come through again. I will now take your questions.