June 2, 2006
Prepare, or else


The last thing St. Vincent and the Grenadines needs right now is to be hit by a serious tropical storm or hurricane. But the way some Vincentians are behaving, you might get the impression that this country has nothing to worry about when it comes to this type of natural disaster.

Yesterday was the official start of the hurricane season, and as part of efforts to sensitize the nation about the need to prepare, the National Emergency Management Organization (NEMO) has been making a series of “whistle stops” to different communities in the country to speak to residents about making emergency plans and what they could do to mitigate the impact of a storm if one hits.{{more}}

National Emergency Coordinator, Howie Prince told Searchlight earlier this week that while many persons were appreciative of the effort, and were happy to receive the information provided by the team, some others showed “outright hostility” to the officials, and refused to listen to what they had to say. Instead they hurled abuse at the team, directing the officials’ attention to individual or community grievances they feel should be addressed.

These people’s responses to the hurricane preparedness message suggest some level of frustration with their own individual circumstances and what they see as Government’s lack of response to their plight. There also may be an element of party political resistance here, with some feeling that, listening to, or co-operating with Government workers would signify support for the Government.

We join the NEMO head in calling on all residents to forget partisan politics, listen to the message and get ready. Only a few weeks ago, parliamentary representative for the Northern Grenadines, Dr. Godwin Friday called on his constituents to put political differences aside and get involved with the National Literacy Crusade, as literacy is a serious matter (or words to that effect). Hurricane preparedness can mean the difference between life and death, so this too requires the cooperation of all.

There is also the notion had by some, that St. Vincent and the Grenadines is the “Home of the Blessed,” and since we have not had a direct hit from a hurricane since Janet in 1955, we are safe.

Meteorologists consider that we have a greater probability of being hit by a storm than Grenada, as we are further north of the equator than they are. We should take heed by considering what happened to Grenada in 2004 and 2005 with Ivan and Emily respectively.

Because of our topography, settlement patterns and the structurally unsound nature of some of our houses, it does not even take a hurricane to cause widespread damage and loss of life here. In 2002, tropical storm Lily took the lives of 4 people who died in a landslide at Mt. Grenan. In 2005, tropical storm Emily destroyed 40 houses, and 670 others sustained significant damage.

In November last year we were hit by a tropical depression which resulted in 2 deaths in Bequia. 24 houses were destroyed, and total damage was estimated at EC$10 million.

This year is predicted to be as busy as last year. Last hurricane season, 17 named storms were predicted, but instead, 27 materialised. Tropical Storm Zeta formed after the official end of the hurricane season, in January, 2006.

It is therefore incumbent on us all to get ready. Those of us who have not yet insured our homes, and are in a position to do so, should make every effort to buy a policy now, as Government cannot and should not be expected to cushion the effects of natural disasters for everyone. The more widespread the damage, the less the government will be able to provide for individuals, as it will have on its hands the rebuilding or repair of the national infrastructure and essential services like roads, bridges, hospitals, the airport, our water and electricity supply and the communications network.

We should review our family, business and community emergency plans, check the integrity of our house roofs, clean up our immediate environment, trim overhanging trees and ensure that we stock up on the essentials like medication, water, batteries and non-perishable foods.

We hope that once again, we would be spared devastation or even damage, but let’s each do what we can to mitigate the effects should the worst happen. Give NEMO a listening ear, cooperate with the authorities, and get our personal situations in order.