Fire at Bahamas shantytown leaves 700 homeless

AP News
Posted: Mar 03, 2011 2:03 PM
Fire at Bahamas shantytown leaves 700 homeless

A fire has destroyed a shantytown in the Bahamas, leaving nearly 700 people homeless, most of them Haitian migrants, authorities said Thursday.

Dozens of aid workers struggled to register the victims and the government assured that it would not arrest illegal immigrants affected by Wednesday's blaze.

No deaths or serious injuries were reported.

It is unclear what caused the fire, although Superintendent Jeffrey Deleveaux, who oversees the island's fire department, said he is not ruling out arson.

Lines for food vouchers and emergency assistance kept growing at the Department of Social Services as crews erected large tents and portable toilets at a nearby church.

But nearly 200 people preferred to remain on the outskirts of the charred heap of homes on Fire Trail road, looking for any possessions they could find.

The victims lived on a roughly one-acre (half-hectare) parcel of land in southwest New Providence, near the island's capital, said emergency management director Stephen Russell.

The majority of them are illegal immigrants, according to Immigration Director Jack Thompson.

Only two months ago, about 200 people also became homeless after a smaller shantytown less than a quarter mile (kilometer) away burned to the ground the day after Christmas. Most of the victims moved into the shantytown that was destroyed on Wednesday.

"These people will now likely move into another shantytown and increase the population there," Russell said. "That situation will become unsafe, and we'll have another fire, and this will repeat itself over and over again."

The government has considered shutting down at least 35 other shantytowns filled with Haitian migrants on the main island of New Providence. Several government agencies are consulting about the problem, Thompson said.

Meanwhile, Haitian migrants continue to arrive.

On Tuesday, authorities apprehended 257 migrants aboard two overloaded sloops near the southern Exuma chain of islands. The government expects to deport them by the weekend.

The Bahamas had temporarily halted deportations of Haitian immigrants following the earthquake that killed more than 300,000 people last year, but resumed them in recent months.