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Bahamas Mobilized in Haiti Earthquake Aftermath

(BIS photo/Derek Smith)

The National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) has been mobilized as The Bahamas braces for an influx of immigrants fleeing Tuesday's 7.0 earthquake in Haiti. "Rest assured that the Government of The Bahamas will do whatever is necessary, whatever is possible to assist," stated Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Hon T Brent Symonette. And, a hold has been placed on the repatriation of Haitians who have entered The Bahamas illegally, Director of Immigration Jack Thompson confirmed. Mr Symonette and a high level Government team addressed their departments' response to the Haitian earthquake aftermath during a press conference Wednesday.

Seventy-two Haitians were to be repatriated Wednesday morning. The flight was cancelled.

NEMA activated the national emergency operation centre on Tuesday in preparation for the aftermath and possible impact on the Bahamas particularly Inagua.

Chief Climatological Officer Michael Stubbs confirmed that tremors of more than 2.5 on the Richter were felt in Inagua, which lies next door to Haiti.

NEMA has been in touch with the Government Administrators in Inagua and Mayaguana.

"NEMA's role is to monitor the activities and based on the Government's intended plan of action we will co-ordinate the activities of Government to ensure that those objectives are met," said Capt Stephen Russell, Director, NEMA.

An emergency meeting chaired by Minister of State for Immigration, the Hon W A Branville McCartney, with the top command of the Bahamas Immigration Department as held Wednesday morning.

They reviewed contingency plans in the event The Bahamas experiences an influx of immigrants from Haiti, as a consequence of the earthquake, Mr Thompson said.

"We are in the advanced stages of having Inagua in a state of readiness in the event we need to move in that direction," he said.

Being the closest Bahama island to Haiti, Inagua is likely to be the first affected by Haitians fleeing the devastation.

He said the Immigration Department is preparing to send tents, bedding, food and additional personnel to Inagua.

Presently stationed at Inagua are two Immigration Officers, 50 Defence Force Officers, eight police officers and a Red Cross team.

Bahamasair, Air Turks and Caicos, private carriers and regular mailboats service Inagua.

"We are pleased that we are moving in the right direction for Inagua," said Mr Thompson.

In New Providence the Detention Centre is being put "in a state of readiness" with tents, portable toilets, bedding and food.

"We have no intentions of repatriating the Haitians at the Detention Centre at this time given the extent of the devastation in Haiti," said Mr Thompson.

"But those nationals which we can and we are in a position to repatriate, we intend to do so."

He confirmed that the Immigration Department is "bracing for an influx" of refugees from Haiti.

"We want to be ready," said Mr Thompson. "We take this very seriously. We want to ensure that we are prepare and we are ready."

He added: "Those who are in our care we have a duty and a responsibility to ensure their safety and their comfort and that is our mandate and that we shall do."

Prime Minister, the Rt Hon Hubert Ingraham has been in contact with CARICOM which is sending an ambassador to Haiti.

The Organization of American States and the Caribbean Disaster Relief Management Authority are planning their assistance.

Except for two locals, the Embassy of The Bahamas' staff are reporting to be safe.

One Bahamian, the Director of Civil Aviation, Patrick Rolle, sustained minor injuries. He is in Haiti with another officer attending a conference.

"There has been tremendous damage..." said Mr Symonette. "We need to keep the Government and the people of Haiti in our prayers and our thoughts as this situation unfolds.

"Rest assured that the Government of The Bahamas will do whatever is necessary whatever is possible to assist."

The Bahamas Red Cross has been in contact with its international federation which stand ready to deploy the necessary equipment and manpower.

There is also a Disaster Team in The Bahamas that is ready.

"We have been flooded with telephone calls from persons in The Bahamas, as to what they can do," said Caroline Turnquest, Director General Bahamas Red Cross.

"We partner with NEMA and we have a group leader and team in Inagua," she said.  "On a small scale we have what is needed and we have access to whatever it takes to get help to the Haitians."