Tragic Truth About Bahamas Hurricane Devastation with Katie Pechon and German Parodi [PODCAST]

[Podcast] As Bahamian officials continue to sort through the widespread destruction left by Hurricane Dorian, confusion and uncertainty has been rampant during much of the initial recovery process. Guests Katie Pechon, German Parodi and Shaylin Sluzalis bring awareness and urgency to the untold stories of the Bahamas and the oft-overlooked impact disasters have on persons with disabilities. 

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The Bahamas extends 760 miles from the coast of Florida on the north-west almost to Haiti on the south-east. The nation consists of 700 islands, of which 30 are inhabited. The total population is 400,000 with 230,000 residing on the island of Nassau.


On September 1, 2019, the eye of Hurricane Dorian made landfall on the Abaco Islands with maximum sustained winds of 185 mph, making it the strongest hurricane on record to affect the northwestern Bahamas. The hurricane moved very slowly – just over a one mile-per-hour. As it was stagnant, the debris-laced winds and waves pulverized the islands in the 2 days it took Dorian to move toward the US coast.


German explained that the Bahamas, being a national of islands, didn’t have the infrastructure to evacuate residents. Lackluster, choppy emergency management responses from local and international governments coupled with profiteering by transportation companies (selling evacuation flights for $4500.00 per person) placed resident rescues as a low priority. Additionally, persons with disabilities, if rescued, might be separated from wheelchairs or other vital supports and not re-united with those items.


Katie and German noted that the typical rescue assets of water, food, clothing and shelter were quickly brought to warehouses in southern Florida. Such staples are rapidly staged after a disaster. However, barriers to bringing the items into the Bahamas included clearing Customs and also having to break down items packed onto pallets to be transported on small planes. Decimated communication systems and damaged roads continued to keep many people isolated from population hubs – the places that will be the first to receive supplies. The number of missing persons has been reported in the thousands and it is likely most that are missing will be deemed losses. The risk of disease grows exponentially with each passing day under the sweltering, wrecked landscape.


Of course, water, food, clothing and shelter are needs shared by persons impacted by disaster. And, items for persons with disabilities, such as wheelchairs, walkers, catheters, insulin, trach components, etc., weren’t efficiently gathered and staged. These items also require collaboration with rescue coordinators in the Bahamas to ensure that they are matched with persons in need. German shared how he interfaced with civilian rescue forces in the Bahamas that work to support persons with disabilities.


German brought attention to the traumatic stress experienced by persons that endured Hurricane Dorian. Fear and anxiety manifested when it was known that the hurricane was projected to slam into the islands and such feelings will quickly rekindle with the next proximal tropical depression. The psychological shock is under-stated by the mainstream media.


As we expanded the discussion to consider steps to improve domestic safety, German and Shaylin described the Real Emergency Access for Aging and Disability Inclusion for Disasters Act (REAADI) and the Disaster Relief Medicaid Act (DRMA) that were introduced in the House and Senate on June 10, 2019. These bills include measures to improve outcomes for persons with disabilities during disasters. First, REAADI ensures that persons with disabilities contribute government rescue plans designed to bring persons with disabilities to safe location and support their needs during a sentinel event such as a hurricane in the United States. People will have input into the development of the plans that will be followed to ensure that they are supported during a disaster. DRMA fixes the existing problem of Medicaid funding terminating as a person crosses the state line. For example, if a person with a disability receiving Medicaid services evacuates Florida for Alabama during a hurricane, that person is not able to access Medicaid supports available to a resident of Alabama. Yep, that’s messed up and this remedy is overdue.


Katie Pechon: VP Triton Relief Group; Germán Luis Parodi: UNDRR Persons with Disabilities Co-Focal Point for the Americas and the Caribbean; Shaylin Sluzalis: Disaster Disability Access Response Team (DART) | Partnership for Inclusive Disaster Strategies; Portlight Inclusive Disaster Strategies


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