It Could Happen Here – So Be Ready!

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A flooded street in Barbados circa 1950??

It is a fact – when it comes to being affected by the ravages of a hurricane, Barbados has largely been spared. Moreover, the most devastating system to impact this island was hurricane Janet in 1955 – so long ago that some citizens seem completely nonchalant when reminded about getting preparations in an advanced stage for the season. But can we afford such apathy?

Hurricane Janet as a Category 1 system, severely unleashed its wrath, lashing Barbados with its 120 mph winds, killing 38 people and making more than 29,000 persons homeless. In its wake, it also destroyed 4,000 houses and left just over 4,200 other structures badly damaged and uninhabitable.??

Within recent times, experts have stated the region should experience increased activity due largely to warmer seas.

The local Meteorological office has announced that for 2010, out of the 15 to 23 named storms predicted, eight may become hurricanes, with four to seven of them being major ones.

In his overview of the region, Acting Director of the Meteorological Service, Hampden Lovell, has stressed that since Janet in 1955 a lot has happened during the Atlantic hurricane seasons, with storms becoming "more frequent and intense."

"Research shows that we are still in that 25/30 year cycle in which we are expected to have above normal storm activity. Since 1995 the average number of named storms in a season was 14 and this is above the long term average of 10. [In that year]… there were 19 named storms, 11 of them reached hurricane strength and five became major hurricanes," Mr. Lovell said.

The Met official also stated that "the 2008 Atlantic hurricane season was also a very active one, with 16 named storms formed, including eight that became hurricanes and five that became major hurricanes."

However, Mr. Lovell indicated that 2005 was the most active hurricane season in recorded history. He noted that of the 28 named storms, 15 reached hurricane status, seven of which were major hurricanes.

To this end, the Meteorological Department intends to provide early notice of impending storms.

During the annual National Preparedness Forum at Grand Barbados this month, Minister of Home Affairs, Freundel Stuart, underscored the seriousness of the situation. He told stakeholders: "Last year we were blessed once again with a tranquil hurricane season. …??

"It would be imprudent to allow ourselves to be lulled into a sense of false security because we have been lucky. We face great risks in the coming months and must be prepared. Recent events demonstrate that we should be constantly vigilant.?? The onus of the mitigation effort nonetheless resides with us," Mr. Stuart declared.

Hurricanes are very dangerous because of their unpredictable nature. With no respect for class or creed, they can wreck havoc in both developed and developing nations alike, in a matter of hours.

The devastation of Katrina, in August, 2005, with its 175 mph winds, is another example of the impact of these colossal forces of nature. The Category 5 storm, arguably one of the five deadliest in United States history, is the sixth strongest overall on record.

It formed over the Bahamas on August 23, 2005 and crossed over southern Florida as a moderate Category 1 hurricane, causing a great deal of flooding, before rapidly strengthening in the Gulf of Mexico. The hurricane weakened before making its second landfall as a Category 3 storm on August 29 in southeast Louisiana. The system caused severe destruction along the Gulf coast, from Central Florida to Texas, resulting in 1,836 deaths and costing the US government 81.2 billion dollars.

Some of the worst hurricanes on record include Allen in 1980, Gilbert in 1988 and Mitch in 1998. In September 2004, a 160 mph Category 5 Ivan carved a path of unmitigated fury, leaving 39 persons dead and destruction to the tune of $2.2 billion in the Cayman Islands and Grenada. It also affected Barbados, damaging 531 houses and killing one person. In the aftermath, it left $10 million in damage.

Every year the various government agencies, whether the Met Office or the Department of Emergency Management (DEM) issue a clarion call for Barbadians to ???Be Prepared’. Programme Officer, Simon Alleyne, maintains that Barbadians need to be more proactive.

"Bajans sometimes are very risk tolerant- we believe that we can respond [at the] last minute and get things ready for the hurricane season.?? It’s always better to be forearmed than forewarned," the DEM official stressed, noting that ours was a dangerous approach.

Mr. Alleyne added: "The Met office does a good job by informing the public when a hurricane or a tropical storm is approaching, but it is important for Barbadians to look at the rest of the region, for example, what happened in Jamaica, [hurricane Gilbert] and what happened in Grenada, [hurricane Ivan], and then use those examples for improvement."??

As government continues the awareness programme, the responsibility of the mitigation efforts, nonetheless, reside with each citizen. The continued charting of systems off the African coast is another indication that our state of readiness may well be severely tested.

As Acting Prime Minister and Minister of Home Affairs, Freundel Stuart declared, tackling this issue will necessitate "a collaborative effort" in the national interest. It is a battle that we can ill afford to lose.??

clashley@barbados.gov.bb??

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