Plywood becomes a political issue

Cayman Islands Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush said last week that local government moved too slowly in supplying people with plywood to protect the windows and doors of their homes as Hurricane Dean approached.

Mr. Bush said his 100 member West Bay Hurricane Preparedness Committee received seven pallets on Saturday, 18 August. Pallets generally contain between 48 and 72 sheets, depending on the quality of plywood.

The committee made an initial request to government for 4,700 sheets. It received a few more pallets Saturday evening, Mr. Bush said.

‘What it shows is that, with all the good intentions, government was not ready.

‘In saying that … I believe the National Hurricane Committee was trying to do a good job, but, there are a lot of things that lack.

‘Here, I say the government lacks and I lay the blame at Mr. Tibbetts’ feet because he is the man responsible.’

During a Cabinet press briefing Friday, Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts said plywood was distributed to all six districts in Cayman. However, he said not everyone who asked for plywood got it.

‘The whole effort there is for those who are needy,’ Mr. Tibbetts said. ‘These efforts are not just across the board for all citizens.

‘You will hear people say ‘well, so and so got and I didn’t get.’ And it is just impossible to have a monitor where you go around and get every single homeowner.’

Mr. Tibbetts was uncertain how much government spent on plywood supplied to residents, nor could he state how many homes received plywood.

He said eventually Cayman should adopt laws that require hurricane-resistant shutters for windows of homes.

‘In the medium to long-term it has to cost less, plus the other factor of the damage done if (windows) are not shuttered and government itself having to step in on occasions such as these,’ Mr. Tibbetts said.

Mr. Bush said a UDP Government would move to ensure all districts had hurricane preparedness committees in place similar to the West Bay committee.

‘By and large, our committee works well,’ he explained. ‘We take it by road and we get the names of the elderly and people that we know usually need assistance.

‘Some people just need the plywood and they can put it up themselves. Others need help and so we try to tend to those people first and foremost. I can’t get out to every person so therefore we send committee members to the various areas.’

Whether government or politicians should even be expected to supply people with plywood was a hot topic last week on radio call-in shows.

Mr. Bush agreed Planning Department regulations need to be changed to ensure windows and doors are better able to withstand hurricanes.

Mr. Tibbetts said a questionnaire had been circulated in West Bay and would be sent around other island districts to help government identify certain homes or areas where plywood was needed most.

Right now, Mr. Tibbetts said the plywood is distributed on an ad hoc basis as is needed and as it can be acquired.

Shelter space

Mr. Bush also urged government to create extra hurricane shelter spaces.

‘The shelters that we had, they are not even back in place.

‘Even with the shuttering I’m talking about, there has to be some shelters because, naturally, Cayman is low and there are residents that will have to go to shelters in the case of flooding.

‘In three years, none of this is done. They are going into their third year and none of this is done and a tremendous amount of money is wasted in this country.’

National Hurricane Committee Chairman Donovan Ebanks said last week that roughly 1,600 of the islands 4,000 available shelter spaces were occupied at the height of Hurricane Dean’s passage.

Mr. Ebanks admitted more people would have gone to the shelters if the storm had been more severe. However, he said there will never be as many storm shelter spaces as there are people in Cayman.

‘My ultimate aim isn’t to leave…12,000 to 20,000 shelter sites around Grand Cayman,’ Mr. Ebanks said. ‘But the 4,000 figure will improve.’

Asked how shelters could be improved, Mr. Bush said: ‘Certainly, we don’t have enough. We need to assist the churches … that have buildings that can be used.

‘Even if the (church) auditorium itself cannot be used as a hurricane shelter, we certainly have other buildings that are attached to the churches that can be used. Government can assist by putting in the money to upgrade them to hurricane strength,’

Fellow West Bay and Opposition MLA Cline Glidden in July called for churches to receive government funding if they built to a standard that allowed the building to be used as a public hurricane shelter.

Despite his criticism of government, Mr. Bush had praise for many others that contributed prior to and during Hurricane Dean.

‘I just think there is a lot of people we need to be grateful for; immigration and other government departments; the hard working staff of Cayman Airways; the Health Services; the people of the private sector and the ordinary man and woman on the street that comes out to help – those people, government could never afford to pay, so we are eternally grateful for their help,’ Mr. Bush said.

‘Most of all, we have to be thankful for almighty God for his blessings because it was him that turned it (Dean) and not mankind.

‘It could have been a whole lot worse.’

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