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News & opinion

28 NOV 2019

Assessing the damage in the Bahamas

Amie Silverwood

Amie Silverwood

Content Manager - Communications and Media

Toronto, Canada

RICS

When Ron Taylor MRICS arrived in the Bahamas on September 4th shortly after Hurricane Dorian hit, the damage was shocking - even for someone who had spent his career assessing the impact of hurricanes and other disasters. The Abaco Islands, where he was to be spend the next few months, were in ruins and not safe to host those working on recovery efforts.

As a Chartered Quantity Surveyor, Taylor assessed damage to structures and interior water damages by using water meters and infrared technology, consults with structural engineers, industrial hygienists and contractors on the cost of repairs and files damage reports for insurance companies in disaster zones.

One of three quantity surveyors (two qualified by RICS and one local quantity surveyor), Taylor and his associates assess extensive and complex damages and assist the insurance adjusters. His specialized knowledge and MRICS qualification deliver confidence to his clients – insurance agencies based in the Caribbean, UK, the U.S. or Canada who want to ensure they're getting an accurate report of the damages incurred and the cost to replace the insured structures.

Is it a category six?

Hurricane Dorian held slow-moving over the Abaco Islands in the Bahamas for over 24 hours with winds sustained at 250 km/hr, making it the most fierce and prolonged battering by an Atlantic hurricane of any populated place in recorded history. With its high and sustained wind speeds, some experts argue Dorian should be considered a category six hurricane – a new category on the five-level wind scale.

The Abaco Islands are in a remote region of the Bahamas – far from the central government and business hub in Nassau. Its remote location has been a barrier to administrative services like insurance. K Peter Turnquest, deputy prime minister, recently estimated that 80 percent of losses incurred by private homeowners and businesses were uninsured.

Without funding to replace lost homes and businesses, recovery efforts will be slow. Those who lived on the islands were evacuated to live in temporary housing while the work progresses.

boat into houses bahamas
The Bahamas continues to undergo a period of rehabilitation after Hurricane Dorian

Working in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian

For Taylor and his colleagues who arrived after the hurricane tore through the region, there was no safe place to stay, no infrastructure, water, food or fuel. The red cross set up temporary food shelters for those helping with the clean-up.

"Abaco was so bad for the adjustors, they couldn't stay on the island," said Taylor. "They used charter planes and fly them in to do inspections and then back to Freeport." Communication by telephone and internet was also an issue.

The airport at nearby Freeport escaped the worst damage but it was under six feet of water during a storm surge, said Taylor. The storm surge damaged landing lights on the runway, limiting all flights to daylight hours.

Taylor and the other two quantity surveyors stayed on a boat that had a generator for power but was able to take them to various properties – yet even this posed a challenge in the hurricane's aftermath. Many of the docks had been destroyed.

The captain of the boat would spend his days going back and forth to the nearest island to restock food and water and to refuel. They had to be self-sufficient rather than depend on the island to support them. Two months later, conditions are improving but it will take time to make the island safe for residents to return.

Ron Taylor and Kevin Magill`
Ron Taylor MRICS stands behind Kevin Magill MRICS in the Bahamas where they are working as independent quantity surveyors

Assessing the damage

Hurricane Dorian brought winds strong enough to shatter hurricane-proof windows and doors. It would peel off the roof of a well-built house and flatten less-sturdy buildings. Tourist areas suffered less damage than villages that housed locals – but even though many resorts are in a hurry to rebuild there is a lot of work to do and a lack of materials, equipment and manpower.

At the recent RICS Caribbean Valuation and Construction Conference in The Bahamas, attendees called for an improvement in building codes to mitigate some of the effects of severe storms. The building code in the Bahamas is more stringent than that of others in the region, says Taylor, but there is room for improvement.

"Regardless of the building code, when the wind and water surge against the windows, there's no guarantee they'll withstand the pressure," says Taylor. "Property owners should prepare for the next storm by insuring their property at the replacement value."

Amie Silverwood

Amie Silverwood

Content Manager - Communications and Media

Toronto, Canada

RICS

Amie Silverwood is the Content Manager – Communications and Media for RICS in the Americas.

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