Jamaica braces for Matthew’s fury

Jamaica braces

Saturday, October 01, 2016

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Jamaicans kept close to qualified weather predictions and stocked up on necessities yesterday in anticipation of the arrival of powerful Category Four Hurricane Matthew.

Hurricane Matthew, which up to yesterday was packing winds of up to 230 kilometres per hour, was predicted to dump heavy rain on Jamaica by nightfall today into Monday, and there were fears that the hurricane’s winds could wreak havoc on normal life.

The Jamaica Government said that it had made adequate arrangements to shelter thousands of people if the need arose, while insisting that folk stay off the streets.

Hurricane Matthew developed over Barbados last Wednesday and left damage across St Lucia and St Vincent and the Grenadines. One man died in St Vincent and the Grenadines. Matthew is the strongest Atlantic hurricane since Felix in 2007, which affected 160,000 people, and caused at least 133 deaths and millions of US dollars worth of damage.

The National Meteorological Centre said that a hurricane warning is now in effect for Jamaica as Matthew continues to move across the central Caribbean and is projected to move towards Jamaica within the next 24-36 hours.

The Met Office said that the following dangerous effects of a hurricane are expected to affect Jamaica by Monday:

• Dangerously high water or a combination of dangerously high water and exceptionally high waves, even though winds expected may be less than hurricane force;

• Average winds 118 kilometres per hour or higher;

The centre said that at 4:00 pm yesterday, the eye of Hurricane Matthew was located near latitude 13.5 degrees north, longitude 73.4 degrees west. This is about 620 kilometres (385 miles) southeast of Kingston, Jamaica or 580 kilometres (360 miles) south-southwest of Port-au- Prince, Haiti.

"Matthew is currently drifting toward the northwest near 6km/h (3mph), and a slow northwestward motion is expected to continue through tonight. A turn toward the north-northwest with an increase in forward speed are expected Sunday, followed by a turn toward the north on Monday. On the forecast track, the centre of Matthew will approach Jamaica and southwestern Haiti on Monday," the centre said.

Many companies and owners of private homes secured their structures, and the banging of hammers in various parts of the Corporate Area was a familiar sound.

Yesterday, thousands of Jamaicans braved intermittent showers in the Corporate Area and sections of other parishes to stock up further on articles that could come in handy during a hurricane. Wholesalers and retailers reported brisk business, while stocks of candles, purified and spring water, and bread ran low or out in many establishments.

"Everybody want bread, kerosene and candles. We have to be calling to have more bread delivered as they keep running out," Albert Lym, manager at the Brooklyn Supermarket at Twin Gates Plaza in St Andrew told the Jamaica Observer yesterday afternoon.

Like Brooklyn, the aisles for bread and other baked products in other supermarkets were scanty as Jamaicans stocked up on the products.

There was heavy traffic on the streets of the two cities — Kingston and Montego Bay — and reports from some towns stated that commuter activity was high.

At major distribution outlets like Mega Mart and Hi-Lo Foods in the Corporate Area, officials of the companies said that they were overwhelmed by the turnout of customers.

"A lot of the things here have been sold off," one employee of Hi-Lo in Barbican, St Andrew, told the Sunday Observer.

Local authorities worked feverishly up to late last night to ensure that preparations were made, should there be a disaster. According to Government officials, all approved shelters were stocked with food and other supplies.

Over 100 female prisoners were transferred from the all-woman Fort Augusta facility in St Catherine, to another location — the Horizon Adult Remand Centre in Kingston.

Public hospital officials from Friday urged in-patients who were well enough to leave to go home, while suggesting that should Matthew hit, only emergency cases would be dealt with at the facilities.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness went on a helicopter tour of sections of the island yesterday to get a first-hand view of how preparations were going.

The operators of Highway 2000 were due to open the highway to free access to motorists when Hurricane Matthew makes its final approach to the island. Transport and Mining Minister Mike Henry said that it would be done during and immediately after the passage of the system as well, noting that he will advise of the starting time when this should be done.

Henry is advising motorists not to enter the toll booths demanding free passage before he makes the declaration. The free passage being granted to motorists is in keeping with the terms and conditions of the Toll Roads Act.

Turning to the matter of safety, Henry wants motorists, in particular those who operate public passenger vehicles to, as far as possible, be off the roads as the storm approaches. Further, he said, he is pleading with motorists and the general public not to attempt to access flooded roadways or to remove fallen power lines that may be a conductor of electricity.

"I am taking this opportunity to appeal to everyone within the shores of Jamaica to ensure that you take all the necessary precautions to ensure your safety and that of your property even as the Government activates emergency plans, during the passage of the hurricane," Henry emphasised.

The Government said that its Emergency Operation Centre (EOC) is officially opened and will remain open throughout the passage of Hurricane Matthew. "The public is being asked to call the EOC at 1-888-991-4617, 754-8497 or via cell at 405-2381 and 405-2442, to report blocked drains, downed street lights, flooding or seek general assistance during and after the passage of Hurricane Matthew," the statement from the EOC said.

It is expected that both international airports — the Norman Manley in Kingston, and the Donald Sangster in Montego Bay — could be closed later today or tomorrow. Already, some air carriers, including Caribbean Airlines, have cancelled several flights to the island.

In the volatile north-eastern parish of Portland, Sunday Observer writer Everard Owen reported that residents were prepared for Matthew

"Portlanders are getting ready for Hurricane Matthew as brisk shopping was seen and persons were securing roof and buildings while some roads had sand dumped from Friday and drain cleaning was in progress," Owen wrote.

He said that Portland Western Member of Parliament and minister without portfolio in the Office of the Prime Minister Daryl Vaz told the Portland Parish Disaster Committee Friday via telephone that "two trailers will be located in Buff Bay and Port Antonio with relief items".

Vaz, Owen reported, pointed out that funds allocated to MPs ($1 million) should be utilised and asked that "the National Works Agency starts drain cleaning immediately".

According to Owen, people were seen in the Long Bay area using sand bags to block water getting into their homes. They were also reinforcing their roofs.

The Jamaica Constabulary Force said that it was also prepared for the hurricane.

Deputy commissioner of police in charge of strategic operations, Clifford Blake, said the JCF’s Hurricane Standing Orders, which govern the internal procedures of the JCF during these times, have already been activated.

DCP Blake also explained that divisional commanders have initiated plans to ensure adequate Police presence across their respective divisions, especially in communities that have historically proven to be areas of concern. In addition, areas known to be prone to flooding are being monitored in conjunction with the authorities at the parish disaster committees as well as the Jamaica Defence Force, and plans are in place for traffic personnel to assist with traffic diversion should the need arise.

Plans have also been put in place to ensure that security at government buildings and other vital infrastructure across the island remain uncompromised during the passage of the hurricane and in its immediate aftermath, Blake said.

He advised all persons to stay inside once weather condition start to deteriorate. He also advised members of the public to look out for advisories being issued, and heed all warnings promptly. He also made a special appeal to businesspersons. He offered the following safety tips:

(1) Never go outside during a hurricane. You are in danger of being hit by flying objects. Small children are also in danger of being blown away in strong winds. There is also the danger of downed power lines, which can cause electrocution.

(2) If you are away from home when the hurricane starts, find a safe area and remain there until it has passed. Many persons have lost their lives trying to make it from one place to the other during a storm.

(3) If your house shows signs of breaking up, stay under a table or stand in a sturdy closet.

(4) Business owners and operators are also advised to put in place additional security mechanisms such as storm shutters to protect glass windows and doors. Where there are no shutters, board up all glass windows and remove display items from showcases and secure them. This is especially important for jewellery stores and stores that retail electronic devices, computers, laptops, and phones.

(5) Check and service stand-by generators. This is especially important for businesses that use electronic security systems, so that there is a contingency in the event that the system fails.

(6) Business persons should also examine internal security arrangements and, where possible, increase the numbers to guard against vandalism and/or looting.

(7) Keep listening to the radio for more information on what is happening. Heed any warnings issued immediately.

Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland, in a news release, expressed "deep concern" over Matthew’s arrival.

"My thoughts and prayers are with the people of Jamaica as they brace themselves for what could be a very dangerous storm with winds strong enough to threaten life and destroy buildings," Scotland said.


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