PM wants forced evacuation law

Prime Minister P J Patterson Tuesday said that there was need for legislation allowing for forced removal of persons from selected areas threatened by disasters, according to a report in the Jamaica Observer.

At the same time, he told Parliament that there was no need to declare any disaster areas in the aftermath of Hurricane Dennis. However, the Government would focus on giving special priority to the worst affected areas.

‘As we stated at the time of Hurricane Ivan (last September), we are going to need to develop a policy that has teeth and that will allow forced removal of persons from selected areas where disasters are threatened,’ Patterson said.

He pointed out that some people are fooled into a false sense of security whenever they ignore evacuation appeals and survive hurricanes.

‘But there are some places that are so prone to flooding, that if a natural disaster were to affect those areas, there must be the power to compel those citizens to remove until the danger is over. We have to bring that law to Parliament,’ he said to applause.

In the case of Hurricane Dennis, Patterson said that the administration’s assessment and his judgment did not suggest that there was a need to use the extraordinary powers that can only be exercised pursuant to the declaration of disaster areas in accordance with the Disaster Preparedness and Management Act.

‘And so we do not propose to declare any area a disaster area, but we intend to focus and give special priority to those areas that have been worst affected,’ he added. He named these areas as West St Thomas, East Rural St Andrew, portions of Portland, St Mary, Aenon Town in Clarendon and Cave Valley in St Ann.

The prime minister’s decision was a setback for Kingston Mayor Desmond McKenzie, who had been pushing for several areas in East Rural St Andrew to be declared disaster areas so that the residents would be immediately relocated.

However, Patterson recognised the level of devastation in East Rural St Andrew in his statement and told the House that it needed ‘very, very special attention.’

He said that the assessment of damage from Dennis is yet to be completed and, in light of this, the Cabinet has authorised each ministry and agency to undertake emergency work with funds currently available.

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