Being prepared before the storm

The unpredictable tropical system, now Hurricane Matthew, is behind us and mercifully Barbados, for the most part, escaped its disorganized fury.

The evidence of its brush – damaged houses, uprooted trees, fallen poles and scattered debris – remains, but it could be worse – much worse – and we are thankful.

As it relates to the actual impact on infrastructure, Acting Prime Minister Richard Sealy reported today the National Emergency Operations Committee (NEOC) received 63 reports, including seven fallen utility poles, nine reports of power outages, nine reports of damage to houses and eight reports of flooding across the island.

We turn our focus and support to those among us who have been displaced, and urge that in addition to authorities taking immediate action to alleviate their plight, family, friends and neighbours extend a helping hand.

Reflecting on the preparations for the guest, there was evidence that usually nonchalant Barbadians were beginning to treat disasters differently – a big plus – but equally there were some alarming developments.

On the positive side, citizens appeared better prepared this time around.  Indeed, there were the usual long lines at supermarkets, stores and gas stations, but most shoppers told this media house they were topping up on critical supplies, rather than starting from scratch, and their shopping carts did bear the evidence.

It was also noticeable that as authorities ordered the early closure of schools and businesses on Tuesday evening, citizens appeared to have heeded instructions to stay indoors even well into the early hours of Wednesday, as witnessed by our roving news team.

On the other side, homeless people huddled on the sidewalk at Lower Broad Street in the pouring rain and whipping wind, was downright wrong.

How is it possible that the island’s disaster planners and social agencies failed to put a plan in place to help this vulnerable group? This is unacceptable and a clear procedure must be established to ensure these Barbadians are provided with warm shelter and a good meal.

Another major concern was the repeated and unfair attacks levelled against personnel of the Barbados Meteorological Services.

When the island did not experience the severe weather originally predicted for Tuesday night, some, rather than count their blessings, started their usual vacuous complaints: “The Met office got it all wrong again.” “They shut down the country unnecessarily.” “It was a hoax.” “I wasted money at the supermarket.”

It has become a bad habit for the public to unfairly and unnecessarily poke fun and harshly criticize our Met officials.

Weather forecasts are just that: forecasts. Not because Met officials don’t know what they are doing but simply because the weather is fickle.

Yesterday’s system was a perfect example. First it was a tropical wave or disturbance with no centre to merit its upgrade to a tropical depression or storm, as confirmed by officials from the National Hurricane Centre (NHC) in Miami after a reconnaissance aircraft investigated the system. A couple hours later, it was designated Tropical Storm Matthew. That no doubt silenced the unbelievers just after midday.

And that brings us to those audacious who appeared to have all interest in the almighty dollar and not in the safety of their employees when they opted to open their doors for business during the national shutdown.

One can’t help but wonder if the workers were caught in the high winds and rains that developed just after noon.

We agree with the Attorney General that it was a “dangerous” practice and welcome news that Cabinet will be discussing the matter when it meets tomorrow.

We aver that the powers that be contemplated all the information at its disposal and arrived at the best possible decision in the national interest.

Perhaps the time has come to pass legislation to put the issue to rest, but our business owners should know better and must do better. Disasters are serious business and with at least two months to go before the hurricane season officially ends, we would do well to correct our mistakes to avoid paying a high price.

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