Nassau, Sept. 20, 2005 (The Bahamas Journal) -Tropical Storm Rita yesterday provided an opportunity for officials of the National Emergency Management Agency to test their own level of preparedness as they huddled in meetings to discuss how best to react to the storm.
NEMA officials partially activated the Emergency Centre at 1pm for a 24-hour period.
According to Carl Smith, national disaster coordinator, Defence Force personnel and officials from the Department of Meteorology will join NEMA staff until 1pm today.
Mr. Smith added that as conditions change – and if it becomes necessary – officials from other government agencies will be called in to lend a hand in monitoring the situation.
Woman marine officer, Jocelyn Civil, also joined the emergency centre to provide translations for the Creole community.
During a press conference at noon, NEMA officials assured that they were prepared.
Yesterday afternoon, Tropical Storm Rita was located less than nine miles from the southern tip of Long Island, placing it about 195 miles to the southeast of New Providence.
At that time, Rita was moving west-northwest at approximately 12 miles per hour, a little faster than had previously been reported.
"We can expect at least four to six inches of rain in the immediate vicinity of Rita and that is those islands in the central Bahamas – Long Island, Cat Island, South Eleuthera and San Salvador," meteorologist Mike Stubbs said. "We expect sea surges of some six to nine feet in the immediate vicinity as well."
Meteorologists were hoping that by the time Rita developed into a hurricane, it would have long passed The Bahamas.
But officials said they were not taking any chances.
Education officials ordered the closure of public schools in the southern and central Bahamas. Schools in New Providence, Eleuthera and the Berry Islands were later closed at 1pm.
According to Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Education Creswell Sturrup, whether schools will remain closed today will be based on a further assessment of the situation.
NEMA officials said they were in communication with Family Island administrators, all of whom had already held committee meetings and tested their communication systems.
"In our communication with the administrator on Andros, he indicated the residents there are also well prepared," Mr. Smith said around noon. "But there is a situation with one of the shelters and so they are currently looking at other facilities to replace that shelter which was located in South Andros."
At the time, a hurricane warning was in effect for Andros.
Mr. Smith said NEMA had also communicated with its external partners like the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Response Agency (CDERA) which has a team that would come to The Bahamas were it to experience a level three event.
"Coming out of the Hurricane Katrina, we have noted that one must be very familiar with the protocol to access foreign and external assistance and to recognize that that assistance feeds into whatever systems we have in place and that at some times – depending on the severity of the hurricane – the systems that we have locally may not be functional for whatever reason," Mr. Smith said.