Columns

Sandy was no Gilbert, but it was also dangerous

Wignall's World

Mark Wignall

Sunday, October 28, 2012    

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It seems than in the wake of hurricanes, whether they make landfall in Jamaica or have a close relationship with our coastline, the official reports we get afterwards always seems to be conflicting.

In September 1988 when the monster Hurricane Gilbert hit us, I was at a brother's residence in Golden Acres near to Red Hills.

The first part of the hurricane began on a Monday at some minutes to 2:00 pm and, never having seen a hurricane before, it was pretty much of a show for me to leave my house in Havendale and 'spend the hurricane' with a brother who had been newly divorced.

I was just on the mend in my own relationship, and my wife and young children were safe in Harbour View at their grandparents' slab roof house.

At Golden Acres I positioned myself at the door at an upstairs balcony and, with binoculars, scanned as far as I could see through my 8x35. The first part was relatively harmless.

It has to be recalled that Gilbert traversed Jamaica almost in a straight line from east to west. That meant that at all times Jamaica would have been engulfed in the most dangerous part of the hurricane, the eye-wall. As the system moved westward, the outer bands would first affect a location, then the western eye-wall and then the calm of the eye.

As it continued, that location would then encounter the eastern eye-wall and after that, the outer bands in the most eastern part of the storm.

The thing is this. I have friends who tell me that the hurricane began on the Monday and finished that same day.

What was my experience and the experience of others at Golden Acres? The first part of the hurricane 'blew off' in about two hours. A neighbor across the road, but about 30 feet below us, invited us for drinks. While we were there I was constantly timing the hurricane and telling my brother, 'Listen, we only have 10 minutes, let's go.'

We eventually got caught at the neighbour's house and, 50 metres from my brother's house, we could not get back. It was then that I saw what a real hurricane was — the eastern side of Gilbert's eye-wall. It damaged everything, including divesting the neighbour of his roof, relieving my brother of his and, unknown to me at the time, Gilbert took the roof of my house in Havendale sailing two blocks away.

We were in hurricane conditions until about five the next morning. And yet I keep hearing that Gilbert hit Jamaica in the day and completed its wrecking-ball trip that same day.

In Sandy, the only other direct hit since Gilbert, I am getting the same conflicting stories. Reports have said that Sandy hit Jamaica five miles from Kingston and then continued on its north, north-easterly trek. If that is so, and I live not very far from Kingston (Red Hills), why did I not experience the calm of an eye and then another few scary hours of wind in the opposite direction?

It is my belief that the centre of Hurricane Sandy was probably a few miles off the eastern coast. As the hurricane moved northerly, based on the experience I had that Kingston and St Andrew were at all times in the western eye-wall, there was no lull, no eye.

Reports say Sandy lasted for three hours. Was that three hours of 60 minutes each? What was my experience and that of all people in Red Hills? The hurricane began at about 1:30 pm and started tapering off at about 6:30 pm. That, in my book, is five hours of unrelenting, driving wind.

Let us get at least one fact straight. Sandy was nowhere near as monstrous and damaging as Gilbert was. That said, Hurricane Sandy was certainly no dance in the park. Five hours of category one winds, which sounded like category two, is more than testing on one's mental strength.

Chupski slept through it. I paced the floor like an idiot and was constantly plugging leaks at sections of windows and at places where the roof was breached.

Unlike Gilbert, as Sandy faded and we were fully able to view the landscape, while significant amounts of trees had broken apart and some had fallen, the majority still had leaves, even though most breadfruit and avocado trees were without fruit.

In the wake of Gilbert, all trees left standing were totally devoid of leaves.

As I write, I am — like most people I have spoken with by telephone in the Kingston Metropolitan Area — without electrical power. My laptop is powered by a converter from my car's battery, and FLOW, my service provider, is always in hock to JPS. If JPS is dead, so is FLOW.

I have a LIME modem which I have not used in ages. It is now a saviour.

The next morning, I invited people to take the many breadfruits which had been blown off. Three full 'crocus bags' of the fruit were given away. Unfortunately, all the avocados remaining for the season fell off and broke into bits.

Without electrical power, we will have spoilage of cold storage goods. To avoid that, some may have to give way their goods. To many others, that will be a gift too good to refuse.

Many have suffered damage, and in one small district of mostly poor residents in a section of Red Hills, many wooden houses have been totally destroyed.

Where do we go from here?

One reader wrote in relation to what I had suggested in my Thursday column that man must, in essence, bow to the forces of nature.

What I said was: "By now it should be obvious to all that wishing and hoping and praying will have little effect on natural phenomena like storms, floods, volcanoes and earthquakes. The earth does its thing, and being the master of us, we have to yield to its beck and call and learn to live with it."

His response was: 'Well, it is your acknowledgement that there is a force in life which is much greater than man. And it is only when you and others are not being threatened by this force, collectively, you offer convenient and zero-sum highfalutin thoughts on whether there is a Grand Architect behind this ultimate force.

'And though scientifically one may be able to offer sparse evidence, not conclusive ones, as to the attributes and origins of these ferocious winds, by peering into nature, scientists are of no help to stop them or to protect us against them. Mankind cannot even correctly predict them and their extent to do damage, only in some marginal way. And so, I must agree with you, the earth surely does its thing, and it is the master of us all.

'But with man's vast repertoire of know-how, it is surprising that the earth is still a mystery to him — isn't it? He does not know from whence the earth and nature came or whither they are heading. And so, putting all this into context, it is unmistakably clear that there exists ONE who is greater than us and all of nature, the earth included.'

Now, I must admit that I find difficulty following the logic which states that since man is unable to fully master or even comprehend the forces of nature, it must mean that there is 'one' who is greater than us directing it all.

In other words, because science cannot stop hurricanes it must mean that hurricanes are directed by 'someone' who is greater than all scientists. To the reader, the explanation can never be that the earth and its natural forces are simply that — natural forces.

It seems indelicate for me to be making village philosophy out of people's tragedy. There are those along the south-eastern coast, from Harbour View to St Thomas, who have suffered. It matters little to them whether there was a God who had power of life and death over Sandy.

They have suffered. And at this time it is immaterial to them whether scientists who specialise in the study of the earth's weather systems can bring more to bear on assisting us to cope better with earthquakes, volcanoes, floods, tornadoes, tsunamis and hurricanes.

They need help now and not necessarily from the Government. In any event, politicians usually help only when they can be assured of a vote.

And why not? It is what they do.

observemark@gmail.com

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