Being prepared when the high winds come

For many of us, yesterday’s rapid approach of Tropical Storm Harvey was just another unwelcomed interruption that we hoped would fade away as quickly as it developed and with the usual minimal effect; especially since Barbados was busy putting the finishing touches on a spectacular opening of CARIFESTA XIII, touted to be unlike any other.But, alas, that was not to be.

By 6 p.m. yesterday, the grand show was postponed; Government offices, public transport and private businesses were shut down; and families were huddled at home to wait out the pesky weather system that brought heavy rains, thunderstorms and gusty winds.

After the worst of it blew over and damage assessments got under way, we have to confess it was a timely reminder that the hurricane season is no pushover.

We were spared yet again, especially after witnessing the nightmare in Sierra Leone where heavy rains triggered landslides and killed hundreds.Thankfully, Harvey was no Category Three hurricane.

Torrential downpours flooded homes and severely damaged roads, while high winds uprooted trees, knocked down power lines and ripped off roofs in the north, particularly in St Peter, and in the south in Christ Church.

According to a preliminary update from the Department of Emergency Management, one house was washed off its foundation, the annex to the Providence Methodist Church lost its roof, and bridges in St Joseph and St Andrew sustained some damage. But no one was killed or injured, and for that we are grateful.

On this occasion, the Barbados Meteorological Service, which is often unfairly ridiculed earned the praises of Barbadians. Its forecasts were well timed and accurate.

It easily comes to mind that the Met Office predicted that around 8 p.m. the rain would start and on the very hour it did.

However, whether it did or not, the criticisms levelled by Barbadians are unjustified when one takes into consideration the unpredictable nature of weather.

Equally, it was noteworthy that businesses and residents complied with the national shutdown from all appearances – a significant improvement from the experience of Tropical Storm Matthew when some private operators remained open for business during its passage.

Of concern, though, was the shutdown of the services of the Transport Board.

When this media house visited the Fairchild Street and Princess Alice bus terminals, scores of Barbadians appeared to have been left stranded.

While it is understood that the Transport Board has to ensure its staff and buses are safely off the road, it cannot do so to the detriment of commuters.

The fact is, there was simply not enough leeway given to workers to make their way to respective bus terminals to be safely transported. There need not be a repeat of this. Once emergency officials give a clear indication of a national shutdown, the Transport Board then has to allot a reasonable time to take care of its commuters.

Admittedly, this and other elements of our National Shutdown Policy still need to be refined and clearly articulated, but on this occasion the process was much more smooth.

Another glaring challenge that disaster authorities must rectify is the treatment of homeless people. We cannot issue warnings urging Barbadians to fully prepare for any eventuality, shut down town, batten down homes and leave the most vulnerable on the streets. There has to a safe house where these Barbadians can be shielded from the dangerous elements. We cannot allow a tragedy to occur.

With cleanup operations to continue in the coming days, our focus must turn to those who were affected by the storm. We urge authorities to avoid making unrealistic promises and genuinely find ways to help those displaced to return to normality as soon as possible. Apart from Government, we hope all reading this will do what they can to help.

At the same time, we urge citizens to remember that we are smack dab in the most active part of the hurricane season. The weather is often unpredictable and while Barbados has not suffered any major damage from tropical storms or hurricanes in many years, we are not out of harm’s way.

Now is not the time to lapse into complacency, especially with revised predictions from leading forecasters that the Atlantic hurricane season this year will be more active than originally thought.

One Response to Being prepared when the high winds come

  1. John Everatt August 19, 2017 at 3:03 am

    I agree that the Met office was really dead on in their predictions and that the word of this got out to the population. Good job folks. But I also agree that the shutdown procedure was flawed in that the buses shut down at 5 under very short notice which left many stranded in Btown. As the Met office had said around 2:30 the storm was 300 miles away and traveling at 17 miles per hour it does not take much math to come to the conclusion that the storm will not hit until early Friday morning which is exactly what the Met office said and exactly what happened. But the buses shut down at 5:30 pm. I just think that there could have been a bit more thought put into that decision.

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