Category: Natural Disasters in the Caribbean


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 above video shows how one Vincentian news reader reacted when one of the earthquakes struck as the newscast was being recorded.}

 

 

Six earthquakes were reported in the (Eastern) Caribbean on Thursday.

According to a statement from the UWI Seismic Research Centre, the earthquakes occurred North East of Barbados at 07:01am, 7:52am, 11:16am, 11:29am, 11:36am and 12:23pm local time.

“The events were located between latitudes of 13.83°N to 13.99°N and longitudes of 58.51°W to 58.70°W. The Magnitudes ranged from 3.4 to 6.4 and depths from 61km to 111km. These earthquakes were reported felt throughout in Barbados, St. Vincent, Grenada, Dominica, Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana.”

No damage or injuries were reported to the Seismic Research Centre.

Seismologist Dr. Joan Latchman said the faults in the earth are now ready to release the strained energy, causing earthquakes to occur more frequently.

She urged citizens to be prepared for earthquakes of greater Magnitudes as she said people tend to forget that the region is seismically alive.

“We have not seen our largest earthquake for more than a hundred years and we keep saying that we need to be prepared. We need to be prepared at all levels – from the individual to the community, to the region, to the national, to the Eastern Caribbean.”

via Caribbean region struck by 6 earthquakes.

 

Below is my opinion based on the above news release

Actually, during the latter part of last year (2014) over 2o different tremors or earthquakes were recorded in the Eastern Caribbean. The data always show the epicenter to be somewhere NE of Barbados or St Lucia, or within an approximate range of the Windward Islands. It is my opinion that the pressure within the earth’s tectonic plate, just NE of the Eastern Caribbean is reaching a pressure pot release point. Also troubling is the presence of many sleeping volcanoes within the Windward Islands as well.

Here in St Vincent & the Grenadines we last felt a relatively intense earthquake back on Thursday November 29, 2007, at approximately 3 PM. As God’s favour would have had it, although things were thoroughly shaken, there was no human injuries or loss of life. That particular quake registered 7.3 on the Richter scale.

As we are particularly vulnerable to earth movements, we must do the wisely astute thing and put in place community and village-level earthquakes and/or volcanic event responses so as to minimize panic and ensure the greatest possible safety of our ordinary citizens should the Eastern Caribbean suffer an unwanted catastrophic earthquake. Let’s make sure every citizen group knows what to do before, during and after such an event.

Christmas in St Vincent and the Grenadines over the years have been an idyllic symbol of life in paradise so having a Christmas Day with floods, death and mourning was unthinkable until today.Eight persons are confirmed dead so far; I am writing this blog at 6:45 PM on Christmas Day. Residents living between Layou and Prospect are to expect no running water in their homes before Saturday December 28, 2013. sixty two persons are homeless, five persons are still missing and there are about five other persons who have sustained injuries.

Vincy Christmas Day 2013

 

This all started with those iconic words “the night before Christmas”. It was at that time yesterday, Christmas Eve that rains started pouring. The villages to the north of the island seemed to have been most critically damaged or devastated.

The overflowing of the rivers became the driving force of the havoc and displacement that have been experienced. A river in Vermont overflowed its banks and flowed into the streets. It further invaded the homes of residents and swept away household items such as clothing, appliances and Christmas amenities.

The Buccament Beach Resort was damaged very badly. In fact, one of its female employees was washed away in the night and her body recovered early Christmas morning.

The capital city of Kingstown was not spared the raves of its rivers, with many streets and businesses being gutted by persistent waters. There was an early report of a vehicle being washed away along the North River Road in the vicinity of the Kingstown Catholic Church.

Elsewhere on the island other vehicles suffered a similar fate as vicious rivers overtook pathways and roads on their unstoppable journey to the Caribbean Sea or the Atlantic Ocean.

The main hospital, the Milton Cato Memorial Hospital was flooded as well and some information indicated that there were patients who had to be relocated from some wards.

The sole functioning airport, the ET Joshua airport in Arnos Vale had to be closed until mid day on Christmas Day because of the flooding of the compound as well.

One of the truly sad events was when a landslide came crashing down on a house in the leeward village of Rose Bank, killing all five family members inside. Never before had Vincentians have to deal with multiple deaths under such simple circumstances.

And to have it happen the night before Christmas made it even  more painfully unbearable.

There were major landslides in places such as Cumberland, Barrouallie, Park Hill, South Rivers and Georgetown. Many critical bridges on the Windward side were rendered impassable or structurally unsafe for heavy vehicles to use.

A male relative of Prime Minister Dr Hon. Ralph Gonsalves died when a stone rolled into his dwelling house in Park Hill. The Prime Minister happened to have been in London at the time but he rescheduled his return flight to come back home on Boxing Day.

Kingstown

 

This made Christmas a Christmas to remember. All day long Vincentians and relatives were calling in to the on-going interactive radio programmes to share and gather information.

The only other time that the country was traumatized so close to Christmas would have been twenty five years ago, when on December 21, 1988, Vincentian recording artiste Walter Porter died when Pan Am flight 103 blew up over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing all 259 persons on board and 11 on the ground. That tragedy was the work of terrorists who placed a powerful bomb on the plane.

The Christmas carols and music virtually became non existent. What a Christmas Day 2013!

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Please note: It’s now 30 Years.

Today marks exactly twenty-five (25) years since Vincentians at home and abroad were plunged into their most horrifically tragic air disaster in the history of commercial air flight in St Vincent and the Grenadines.

It was on August 3, 1986, that LIAT flight 319 disappeared while attempting to land at the Arnos Vale airport (now renamed The ET Joshua Airport). While all incidents that result in loss of lives are tragic, the untimely deaths of the thirteen souls on board were particularly stinging to all sections of the Vincentian society. That single flight not only  combined a unique mix of some of the most progressive nation builders in our country at the time, but also brought  grief to our regional and international territorial relatives.

Quite possibly the first face that comes to the minds of those of us who were around twenty-five years ago and now recall that stormy Sunday night, is that of Donna Young. Donna epitomized the youthful beauty, charm, female empowerment and potential of St Vincent and the Grenadines. Donna was a bank worker, employed with Barclay’s bank. She had just turned age twenty and was coming back from a holiday trip to America. Donna had won the Miss SVG and Miss Carival shows right here at home in St Vincent in the year 1984. Donna Young also held the Miss OECS title as well. Her smile lit up the stage like no other. One could not help but love Donna Young. To fully appreciate the connection that the Vincentian public had with Donna Young, think of her as the late Princess Diana of the UK or of President John F. Kennedy (JFK) of the United States of America.. Indeed, Donna was our own Vincentian Princess. She was royal.

Donna Young

Donna Young

Also on that ill-fated flight was a watchmaker who was physically challenged. Imagine a gentleman in his wheel chair and is out and about daily taking orders and repairing watches. That was the fortitude of Robert Fraser, who was born with no legs. Disability was never going to be his inability! Robert Fraser was on the flight, coming back home from a seminar in St Lucia that focused on persons like himself who could not walk or had other physical challenges.

IMG_20140804_122553Then there was a family of husband, wife and eight-year-old son who perished that August night. Again, it is expected that everybody’s death will be mourned, but, alas, this was not the average Vincentian family. At just seven years into its political independence from Great Britain, St Vincent and the Grenadines was unfortunate to lose its political opposition leader and two members of his family. Hudson Tannis, along with his wife and son, Ordway,  were returning from a wedding in St Lucia and happened to be aboard  flight 319. Hudson Tannis was also the former Deputy Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines during the Labour Party government of Milton Cato.

The Grenadines also felt the loss of lives because a native of Bequia, a female passenger listed as Alida Ollivierre, was returning home for her friend’s wedding. She was actually traveling on flight 319 with the bridegroom, Rufus Nelson, a Dominican.

Other passengers on the doomed flight included Busta Lockhart, a Vincentian who was on his way back from cutting cane in Canada. Another Vincentian passenger on board was Ruth Babb. The remaining passengers were two Italians. So, of the  thirteen persons on the plane, eight of them were Vincentians.

L-R: Hudson Tannis, his son Ordway, and his wife, Christine Tannis

L-R: Hudson Tannis, his son Ordway, and his wife, Christine Tannis

The aircraft was being piloted by two pilots, Phillip Roach of Guyana and Keith Hobbins of Jamaica. It has been said that the pilot captaining the flight, although he had been to SVG before, was now doing so as the pilot in command. Apparently, he had an idea where the runway was. Unfortunately, owing to the mountainous terrain of the country, the airport is right next to the Caribbean Sea. Because of the rainfall that night, the place was foggy. Visibility would have been extremely poor. Later, residents of Cane Garden will say that they heard the aircraft circling and then the sound of a sputtering engine. Liat flight 319 aborted the first landing attempt. It was during the second landing attempt that the plane disappeared.

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For days and weeks after, all able-bodied man, woman and child, took to the sea and shore to do what they could to find any signs of remains. Apart from a sighting of some floating oil, the remnants of that plane was never to be seen again. At least up to this day. It is said that the waters in the Grenadines are among some of the deepest in the hemisphere, measuring between 180 to 1000 feet. Along with our local coast guard, there were other coast guard ships from Caribbean countries such as Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, Venezeula, and Barbados.

In addition to all those boat searches, The Trinidad and Tobago government sent a helicopter, and the USA sent an aeroplane to participate in an aerial search and rescue effort.

The following weekend one of the largest and most sombre memorial services was held at the Victoria Park, where everybody who is anybody in St Vincent turned out to sympathize with a grieving nation. Saturday August 9, 1986, and Sunday August 10, were declared official days of mourning and flags were flown at half mast across the country.

Prime Minister of SVG, James Mitchell, at the memorial service for flight 319 passengers at the Victoria Park on Sunday August 10, 1986

Prime Minister of SVG, James Mitchell, at the memorial service for flight 319 passengers at the Victoria Park on Sunday August 10, 1986

This is the last recorded air mishap that LIAT has had which had a direct impact on Vincentians.

I hope that our younger generation will at least take a moment today and pause in reflection of the wealth of human and Vincentian potential that we all lost that night. One cannot help but feel that somehow our lives in St Vincent would have been that much richer as a result of the contributions made by the “unlucky 13” of LIAT flight 319, back on August 3, 1986.

May their souls enjoy eternal bliss.

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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