By James Dimond, firstname.lastname@example.org
Wednesday 12th November, 2008 Posted: 08:27 CIT (13:27 GMT)
Cayman Brac will rebuild bigger and better, Sister Islands MLA Moses Kirkconnell vowed Tuesday as help continued to pour into the Hurricane Paloma ravaged Island.
Roof repairs are being done throughout Cayman Brac.
Photo: Tammie C. Chisholm
We will now push for a recovery period that makes the Brac a better place to live, gives a better quality of life and gives us a sustainable way forward, Mr. Kirkconnell told the Caymanian Compass Tuesday from a distribution centre on the Brac.
The first postPaloma barge arrived on the Island Monday, bringing with it dozens of containers filled with desperately needed building supplies, tools, generators and other essential supplies.
Electricity remains out across most of the island but it has been restored to some of the Islands critical infrastructure, including Faith Hospital, Cable and Wireless and the University College of the Cayman Islands, which the Royal Cayman Islands Police is operating out of.
By Tuesday, most other utility services were back to normal; cell phones and about 70 per cent of landlines services are working and Internet services are back up.
Residents were collecting essential supplies from a distribution centre adjacent to the Aston Rutty Centre on the Brac. Relief workers will continue to hand out water, food, toiletries, batteries, flashlights and baby products and other essential supplies between 10.30am and 5.30pm at the centre.
With the Gerrard Smith Airport now completely operational, Cayman Airways scheduled scores of extra 737 jet flights to the island that will help bring in relief supplies and workers and evacuate those left homeless by Paloma.
The Royal Cayman Islands Police Force lifted a nighttime curfew that had been in place, but it said it will continue to assess the situation on a daily basis. They asked residents to exercise caution when moving around the Island and make only essential trips.
Several stores have also reopened, helping to restore at least some semblance of normality to the Island. They include Tibbetts Enterprises Reef; Tibmart Gas Station, Watering Place; Vs Island Supply; Tropical Delight, Biggies Restaurant; and Catboat Plaza.
Cayman National Bank said its ATM is again open and operational between 9am and 6pm and its customer service centre will open on Thursday and Friday between 9am and 11am.
Schools on the Brac will remain closed for the time being after sustaining extensive damage. The Little Cayman Education Service will also remain closed for now.
Families that have fled the Sister Islands will be able to register their children at schools on Grand Cayman, authorities announced Tuesday. They are asked to contact the Department of Education Services on 2441845 for more information.
Mr. Kirkconnell said over half of the islands 2,000 residents remain at least temporarily homeless, and are either staying in hurricane shelters, with friends and family, or have fled to Grand Cayman.
Mr. Kirkconnell is one of them in the midst of what he estimated were 150155mph winds, Paloma ripped the roof of his house, causing the ceiling to cave in. Fifteen people staying at his house spent the worst of the storm huddled in a laundry room, holding the door closed and waiting for the monster storm to leave.
Mr. Kirkconnell is now staying with family and friends at a house that, while damaged, is at least dry.
He said he is convinced that Paloma was packing Category 5 hurricane force winds when it smashed into the Brac, not Category 4 winds as has been so far reported.
Before we got out of the shelter I realised that we had a disaster on our hands. As I got on the road it became further apparent just how bad the damage actually was.
Tornadoes within the storm took steelbeams 14inches wide and twisted them like pretzels, Mr. Kirkconnell reported.
Whole houses were just demolished. Ninetyfive per cent of the buildings on Cayman Brac have some kind of damage to them. About 30 per cent have lost their roofs as in the ceiling is caved in and the house in not liveable.
There remains no reported loss of life on the island, despite widespread reports of ceilings collapsing in occupied houses.
Aircraft, barges and scores or private boats have descended on the island, carrying with them generators, ice and other essential supplies.
The help is pouring in, Mr. Kirkconnell said. Mike Flowers is here with me cooking hundreds of meals every day and distributing them. These are the kind of people that are arriving here in boats.
Authorities reported they did not need any more tarpaulins. A host of other supplies are also well catered for and the challenge for relief workers will now lie in ensuring supplies are distributed efficiently and quickly to those most in need.
Government officials asked Wednesday that people on Grand Cayman hold off from making donations until an updated list of needed items and a drop off point has been established. That was expected to be announced by Wednesday evening.
Brackers in particular needs of items, such as generators, are asked to call the command centre on the Brac on 9256262.
The next part of the recovery will be trying to make houses dry and waterproof with tarpaulins, allowing those staying in shelters and other places to return home.
Government will also have to make loans, grants and other funding available as soon as possible, without making people deal with too much red tape, Mr. Kirkconnell said.
The island stands to receive millions of dollars in recovery money by virtue of Caymans membership of the World Banks Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility, which government has made payments to since 2006. According to the World Bank, the facility provides client governments immediate liquidity if hit by an adverse natural disaster.
The Bracs tourism industry is effectively shut down and it could be for four to five months before tourism can return, Mr. Kirkconnell said. Hotel rooms that do become available will mostly be used to house essential personnel and construction workers rebuilding that tattered Island.
But it isnt all bad news for the local economy. Like after Hurricane Ivan on Grand Cayman, Palomas destruction is likely to usher in a construction boom in the coming year that could bring millions of dollars to the Brac.
Mr. Kirkconnell said everyone is pulling together.
Everybody is there trying to help each other. Nobody is spending time talking about what their needs are, they are talking about how they can help the community move forward.