THIS morning our thoughts are with our friends and compatriots in the United States who have been experiencing the wrath of Hurricane Sandy.
From as early as yesterday morning we started receiving reports of storm surges and flooding on the eastern seaboard of the US — areas that are heavily populated by Jamaicans and other Caribbean nationals.
Having had our own encounter with Sandy, we can empathise with the pain and inconvenience now being experienced by people in the United States who, like many Jamaicans — particularly in eastern parishes — are now without electricity and running water and, in the most unfortunate cases, a roof over their heads.
We hope, too, that after unleashing her fury on the US, Sandy will not result in any more fatalities, for she has already taken 69 lives across the Caribbean — 11 in Cuba, including a four-month-old boy; 52 in Haiti; two in The Bahamas; two in the Dominican Republic; one here in Jamaica; and one in Puerto Rico.
We extend our deepest condolence to the people of our sister Caribbean nations where lives have been lost to Sandy, which is easily one of the deadliest hurricanes to have hit this region in recent memory.
Indeed, the report we have received out of Cuba indicates that Sandy damaged more than 130,000 homes, and of that number 15,400 were destroyed.
Here in Jamaica, we are still assessing the damage, but we have no doubt that it will be huge and will put a strain on our already thin financial resources.
That problem, we expect, will be made even worse with Sandy’s onslaught on the US. For there are many Jamaicans in the Diaspora who, we expect, were planning to assist their relatives here who have been affected by the hurricane, but who will, in all likelihood, now have to tend to their own recovery.
Therefore, the Jamaican Government will come under increased pressure for assistance, even as it gives preference to those among us who are absolutely unable to help themselves.
It is with this in mind that we reiterate our appeal to our fellow Jamaicans who can do so, to help others in need.
Of course, Sandy’s impact on the US will also affect our tourism industry, especially given that we welcome more than half-a-million stopover visitors from the US north-east, which is easily one of our strongest markets in North America.
In fact, we are already feeling the effects of the storm as flights to Jamaica out of New York, Baltimore and Philadelphia were cancelled yesterday. At this point, we have no idea when those airports will be reopened. Our hope, though, is that it will be soon, and that the persons who were booked to travel here will still be able to do so.
Naturally, we are very pleased to see the sensible approach taken by our own chairman, Mr Gordon ‘Butch’ Stewart in refunding guests who are Sandy victims in the Caribbean for that portion of their vacation which was ruined by the hurricane. This should become somewhat of a template for the industry as a whole.
In the meantime, we suspect that our Caribbean tourism authorities and interests will want to concentrate a bit more of their promotional efforts in those areas of the US which have not been hit by Sandy, in order to mitigate the expected fallout.
But even as we look forward to that, we urge everyone to say a prayer for America, a country that has proven to be a true friend of Jamaica, and which has been of great assistance to us, despite her own economic difficulties.