Category: Disaster Preparedness


The 2017 hurricane season is far from over, but already several Caribbean islands have had their future jeopardized by intense hurricanes in the space of a few days. Even the common man on the street, who is not schooled in meteorological information, will easily admit that this year has seen troubling, deadly unprecedented hurricanes.

And it continues.

We in St Vincent and the Grenadines had just held a concentrated series of response efforts to help Vincentians and other citizens in the BVI who were crippled by hurricane Irma. Physical donations were placed on an 1800 ton barge for the BVI. But before the vessel could have reached its destination, up pops hurricane Maria, forcing a speedy return to the safe waters of St Vincent and the Grenadines.

Now, even though this post focuses on the Caribbean, it is important to state that hurricanes Irma and Harvey (its predecessor) also brutally assaulted Texas, Louisiana and Florida, causing billions of dollars in accumulated damages. This acknowledgment is necessary so that a balanced perspective of the overall issue is not lost or trivialized in any way.

Of course, the Caribbean people are no strangers to hurricanes and tropical storms. But any blind man can see, as they say, that the frequency and intensity of the 2017 hurricanes have been abnormally shocking. There have been some hurricane seasons in the past when there were few–or no–hurricanes. And even when there was a hurricane or two, they were usually geographically spaced out and occurred far in time from each other.

But it looks like hurricanes no longer respect the Caribbean islands.

Right now, the BVI, Barbuda, the UVI, Puerto Rico and Dominica are all reeling from the effects of category five (major) hurricanes. In my living memory, we have never had multiple islands in need of regional and international help all at once.

The barge I mentioned earlier has left for a second time to deliver relief supplies to anxious relatives and friends in the BVI. Simultaneously, we are raising other relief resources to help Dominica.

My heart aches painfully for Dominica. They have suffered a double whammy!

On August 27, 2015, tropical storm Erika left at least thirty persons dead in Dominica with communities such as Petite Savannah all but buried under massive mudslides from torrential rains.

Two years later, on Monday September 18, 2017, hurricane Maria, packing category 5 winds of over 160 mph, took direct aim at Dominica and steered its small eye from the southern end to the top of the island with  surgical precision.

As I saw the satellite imagery I could not believe it.  The eye, flanked by the brunt of its most destructive winds, literally followed the contours and shape of the island to a T. It was as if hurricane Maria was a car in some child’s video game, and Dominica was its roadway.

Early in the storm, Dominica’s prime minister alerted Facebook followers that his own house roof had gone and that he was at “the complete mercy” of hurricane Maria. Around 2 AM on the morning of September 19th he told the regional and international community that his island and people will need all the help they can get because Dominica had “lost all that money can buy or replace”.

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Hurricane Maria, just before it made landfall on Dominica with 160 mph winds

I also recognize a highly skilled friend in Dominica who tragically lost his house in 2015 when Erika brought down tons of mudslides on their house, burying his mom and dad instantly, while trapping his feet in the rocks. His dad’s body was never found.

Now an orphan, he and his surviving siblings (all young adults) have had to face the nightmare of Maria a mere two years later.  This is a tragedy that one will not even desire for one’s enemies!

Can you imagine what it must feel like to be trying to rebuild your life after one tragic storm, only to be knocked down again by another disaster in such a short space of time?

As you can imagine, hurricane Maria completely knocked out all means of communication with Dominica, so there has been no word of that family’s fate; however, I trust that they did survive, and they are not numbered in the seven or so fatalities which I have heard about so far in Dominica.

At the time of this post, hurricane Maria is pounding the Dominican Republic and other nearby territories as it barrels northwards now. Meanwhile, radar images are showing non stop tropical activity in the eastern Atlantic ocean.

It is clear that we are not out of the woods as yet.

The speed with which Maria and Irma reached category 5 status has left everyone astounded. Some have even questioned whether or not somebody somewhere has found a way to manipulate weather systems. A plot which would make for a great James Bond film, no doubt.

Nonetheless, meteorologists are citing that the increasingly hot temperatures in the Atlantic Ocean is giving hurricanes a boost. There also seems to be little shear or high pressure systems which usually make it difficult for hurricanes in the tropics to develop into monsters.

After seeing the unbelievable way in which the eye of hurricane Maria navigated the island of Dominica, it has dawned on me that another  such major category five hurricane can do another impossible thing in the Caribbean. That is, it can very well happen in the future that a hurricane, moving in a WNW direction, can pummel the Eastern Caribbean archipelago in one horrific slow-moving and deadly day.

Or night.

I also realize that most–if not all–of the times when a hurricane makes landfall, seems to be in the dark of night, as if the hurricanes know they must also generate panic, fear, and blindness to terrified citizens trapped beneath their destructive clutches of floods, wind and rain.

And even if one hurricane does not do this, it is also quite possible that several hurricanes can strike different islands in the same hurricane season. Or, each year might have one or two  islands being disrupted again and again by natural disasters. And, like Dominica and the Virgin Islands, it might very well be that the same islands will be affected year after year.

The question is, therefore, how much rebuilding can small, generally helpless Caribbean islands sustain in an intensifying hurricane zone. I actually heard a citizen on Puerto Rico asking a television reporter this very question, because Puerto Rico had been affected by hurricane Irma just days before hurricane Maria knocked out all electricity on the island.

Incidentally, hurricane Irma had earlier made the water supply on Puerto Rico a scarce, scarce commodity.

Facing future hurricanes is now a matter of individual islands and regional security. It is not just something the Caribbean can entrust to each territory’s office of disaster management. Indeed, the head of the BVI’s disaster management acknowledged that their headquarters and equipment which they took over forty years to acquire, were all destroyed by hurricane Irma.

Caribbean citizens, from child to adult, must become immediately sensitized to environmental responsibilities and acts of protection and conservation. Studies in regional climate change impact is a must. The construction industry must galvanize support for creating structures that are more resistant to high winds and flooding.  Additionally, each island (and the entire region) now needs not just a hurricane management or response plan, but general disaster coping and survival protocols.

Let me also say that we must begin to look closely at hurricane shelters. I do not think that every building that is owned or operated by government should automatically become a hurricane shelter. The same is true with churches. There are instances where existing hurricane shelters are also suffering similar damages and loss as the home from which many persons run away in the fist place.

Every local community also needs a disaster response and management group with persons trained and equipped to deal with some basic aftermath issues, such as medical and counseling. Every family should have access to hurricane shutters and knowledge of the kind of foods which can last without electricity, for about 4 days.

Let us not forget that the Caribbean is in an active earthquake zone. Many Caribbean islands have dormant and active volcanoes which each has the capacity to decimate the island it is on.

Right now Mexico is counting its dead from a major earthquake which hit even as hurricane Maria was beating up on the Caribbean. Who is to tell if in the future a hurricane and/or volcanic eruption will be affecting one or several small islands simultaneously in the Caribbean?

There has to now be a paradigm shift in leadership, education, corporate and civil collaboration, as well as a new thrust and partnership with the international community. Such a shift must go beyond individual islands’ politics. Now more than ever, Caricom and the OECS must have faith in each other and their abilities, otherwise I am afraid the fate of the Caribbean will be one of literal ruin and destruction. Presently, no human being is living on the island of Barbuda after hurricane Irma. Our human civilization in the Caribbean can be easily placed at risk of extinction by the onslaught of intensifying hurricanes in the Caribbean in future hurricane seasons.

 

 

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The slaughter of young children, ages five to ten, in Newton, Connecticut, USA, yesterday has been the latest in a violent spate of shootings in public places traditionally known as safe havens and violence free. young lone gunmen have shot and killed innocent people in schools, church, a movie theatre and even in their homes. Everybody wants an answer to the WHY question whenever these atrocities happen.

I believe the answer is that the American society, in all its liberal new age movements for equal rights, freedom of speech, lifestyles and actions is beginning to pay the piper for such radically tolerant societies. The unfortunate thing is that America is a world leader. We have a local saying here in St Vincent that when you see your neighbour’s house on fire you must wet your own house as a preventive measure. What we see erupting in America represent the slow and steady push of the social magma and lava of social violence and intolerance being hugged delightfully by a new breed of young people, eager to identify themselves as separate from the generation which preceded them.

Each weekend the American society, and the rest of the world, want to know how the box office did as regards new movies of entertainment. Hollywood has captured us so powerfully well with their non stop on-screen action, violence, revenge, explosions, betrayal, gang pacts and glorified pariahs that those actually seeking social reprieve in the real world are seeing violence as the most gratifying solution. After all, it works so very well on television, right?

The practical importance of values such as respect for human life, having pleasant relationships with one another, extending  and accepting forgiveness, actually TALKING and LISTENING courteously to the other person  are all being marginalized. In their place new values of revenge, self centeredness and violent reticence are now shining on the stove top of the social blue print of the twenty-first century American society.

Where do we go from here? On this tangent, I’m afraid that violence will get much more prevalent before it becomes non-existent. I suggest that the American authorities begin to implement new and never before used, security measures at all public places which traditionally have no connection to violence. For example, what is in place to prevent a shooting or murder spree aboard a cruise ship in international waters? Is “America’s favourite pastime” safe at the many public venues where base-ball is played so regularly? And what about concerts, parks and home for the elderly?

If security measures are only changed at venues after a mass shooting has happened, then that is just playing catch up. These mass murders are only effective when they come as a surprise at places where the last thing on the victims’ minds is dying.

Somebody also has to be brave and wise enough to stop the glorification of guns in America, be it in the movies or in the gun shops. So far, Americans have chosen to sacrifice the lives of their innocent loved ones for the sake of gun and ammunition profits. America, why would you prefer to lose your citizens rather than lose your money?

While many people are now expressing their grieving support with the American people, I am using this blog post to turn a light on a path that may not be what America wants to see but which can keep many of the innocent people reading this alive so that they may succumb to a natural death at their appointed time.

 

Most of us only know violence or attacks on another human being from what we see on the television or other streaming videos. But what if you were to find yourself in the unlikely situation that a person or persons around you were actively trying to harm or kill you? Would you know what to do? I am sharing this video that I found very helpful; in fact, I am pretty sure it can save any of our lives in time to come. I hope you pay great attention to it: even if you need to replay it several times.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

The Most Recent Satellite Image Shows St Vincent and the Grenadines being Affected by Stormy Weather

Anytime. Anywhere. Anyhow.

Those three words practically sums up the open vulnerability of human beings to natural disasters. Every geographical location on the earth’s surface is under the potential destructive effects of some form of natural disaster. So it makes little sense to  run away from the tornadoes or heat waves in Oklahoma and come to St Vincent and the Grenadines (not that we wouldn’t welcome your visit). But here in the Caribbean we have to contend with earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, fires, flooding and land/mudslides and hurricanes.

There is no 100% preparedness or prevention strategy that we can use against the damages caused by natural disasters, but, just as we try to prepare for the death of a loved one, we also try to prepare for disasters so that we can take out a bit of the sting out of the disasters. The hurricane season runs from June to November but one should not wait for those six months to be prepared. There are simple steps that can be taken all year round.

One of the simplest things to do is to keep a clean quantity of water stored to last your household for a couple of days ( a week will be good). You can change that water every couple of months by using it for washing or some domestic purpose. Make sure your stored water does not become a mosquito breeding ground. That in itself can ignite its own disaster.

I wish to use my blog to suggest that all homeowners and contractors working with financial institutions incorporate a permanent water storage facility in the home mortgage. Similarly, each home mortgage can also have its own  solar  unit attached . These two important fixtures may be costly initially, but in the long run, believe me, they will not only for themselves but may also save lives in the process.

A few years ago, while at a government function at the Methodist Church Hall I was scolded by a lady from the Grenadines who was openly upset at the amount of water mainlanders have running freely while they in the Grenadines were rationing their daily use of water.

Let me return to my focus. In order to be ready for a disaster as well, as a people we need to know what alternative means of communication we will resort to. It is always predictable that electricity and telephone services are among the first casualties in a storm or disaster. Let me suggest that each village, if not each household, should have access to a CB radio or other emergency broadcast equipment. I  think it is crucial that when a disaster has struck, telephones are dead, roads are blocked and citizens injured, then the rural communities must know exactly what to do, and even who should do it.

Although NEMO is doing quite a commendable job of sensitizing  the population on proper disaster preparedness strategies, one of my concerns is who or where do villagers go in the immediate aftermath of a disaster such as a hurricane. While I was in Grenada I listened to Grenadians tell of their experiences during and after Hurricane Ivan. Even though several years has passed since the utter destruction from that September 7 hurricane in 2004, you can still hear the fright in their voices as they share. I vividly recall one young lady telling me that the church that her family and other villages ran into just as the storm started was basically destroyed in minutes. She said she panicked when she saw her mother–her tower of strength–bawling down the place because of the loud noises and darkness of the heavens. The glass windows of the church building did not hesitate to allow the heavy winds entry into the building.

Under such circumstances of chaos and terror I think it is imperative that villagers know who to turn to as they await help from the authorities. That is, providing that the authorities still exist and can respond. It is most likely that a plan of action has to take into account use of secondary roads or just “short cuts” because most roads are often blocked by landslides.

Families should also know where the closest emergency shelter is located. They should also have a plan in the event tha they are separated. maybe they can agree to communicate or meet at a neighbour’s place, for example.

Stocking up on durable food items is a good practice. If your family is large, buy the basic grocery items in bulk. Be ready to eat fruits and vegetables that may be in abundance after a storm.

It is not a bad idea to take the time before a disaster hits to volunteer with your local Red Cross and learn some life-saving skills. Who knows, you might be the only doctor or nurse at the scene of a serious injury resulting from a natural disaster.

A good effect of natural disasters is that it automatically breaks down any and all walls of divisions between people. And maybe that is something that every people group needs: to see each other as family,and love, care and help because it is just the right thing to do.

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