Another hurricane season is just around the cornerMonday, May 03, 2021
SUCH has been the impact of hurricanes that Caribbean people routinely associate natural disasters with that period between early June and late November — the Atlantic Hurricane Season.
While they are not nearly as frequent as hurricanes, the danger posed by major earthquakes is uppermost in Jamaican minds.
The catastrophic 2010 quake in Haiti, which left tens of thousands dead — some estimates suggest as many as 300,000 — was a graphic reminder.
Lying on the same seismic fault as Haiti, Jamaica has had its fair share of earthquake disasters, most memorably in 1907 when Kingston was devastated, and way back in 1692 when much of Port Royal — then a notorious base for pirates — was claimed by the sea.
Over the last month, the eruption of the La Soufrière in northern St Vincent has alerted many Jamaicans to another source of natural disaster.
Thousands of Vincentians have been forced to flee their homes as a result of heavy ash fall, which has rendered entire communities uninhabitable and destroyed farms and livestock.
Jamaica, like its sister Caribbean countries and others, has rushed to provide relief from that disaster — the effects of which will last for years to come.
We are being told that the volcanic eruption in St Vincent has been compounded by serious flooding and mudslides caused by heavy rain.
Eleven islands in the eastern Caribbean are described as being vulnerable to volcanic eruptions. Even those islands in the eastern Caribbean chain which, like Jamaica, are not volcanic, feel the negative effects of ash blown on the wind.
We remember in 1995, when Montserrat, a small British overseas territory, was devastated by the eruption of the Soufrière Hills volcano, forcing most members of its 13,000 population to flee. Nineteen people died in that disaster. Montserrat's capital town of Plymouth was destroyed and remains unoccupied to this day.
In effect, hurricanes, earthquakes, and volcanoes have conspired to make the Caribbean among the more disaster-prone regions in the world. And now, already under the burden of COVID-19, the region must prepare for another hurricane season starting in less than a month.
Experts have identified global warming, which is said to be largely the result of human activity, as having heightened the intensity and frequency of weather events, including Atlantic storms. Last year's hurricane season had far higher activity than normal, with 30 named storms, although Jamaica remained untouched.
Again, this year experts say high sea temperatures indicate the likelihood of a very active season for countries with Caribbean coastlines, as well as those washed by the Gulf of Mexico, and the eastern seaboard of the USA which meets the Atlantic Ocean.
Despite sustaining damaging brushes with a number of storms down the years, Jamaica has not felt the full force of a hurricane since Gilbert touched down in St Thomas on September 12, 1988. That Category Three storm tore through the centre of the island, leaving at least 45 people dead and more than US$4 billion in damage.
We hope and pray that we will be spared the impact of any and all hurricanes yet again. But it's time now for Jamaicans and their leaders to prepare for the worst in the upcoming storm season as best they can, without losing sight of COVID-19.
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