BY INGRID BROWN Associate editor — special assignment firstname.lastname@example.org
THE island's disaster management agency said emergency responders are ready for any eventualities as Jamaicans brace for the onslaught of Tropical Storm Sandy which is expected to make landfall on the southern end of the country this afternoon.
Yesterday, the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM) said key agencies such as the Jamaica Constabulary Force, Jamaica Defence Force, Jamaica Defence Force Coast Guard, Marine Police, Jamaica Fire Brigade, National Works Agency (NWA), Port Authority, Airports Authority, Red Cross, Ministry of Labour and Social Security, Ministry of Health, and other bodies have activated their emergency plans.
The two international airports, as well as schools and businesses, will remain closed today until the hurricane warning, which is now in effect for the island, is lifted.
Yesterday, the Meteorological Service said dangerously high water or a combination of dangerously high water and exceptionally high waves will begin affecting Jamaica today, as the 18th named system of the season continues on a direct path towards the island.
The Met Service reported at 5:00 pm that the centre of Tropical Storm Sandy was located near Latitude 14.3 degrees North, Longitude 77.6 degrees West, or about 420 kilometres (260 miles) south-south-west of Kingston, or 290 kilometres (180 miles) south of the Pedro Cays.
Sandy, the Met service said, is moving towards the north-north-east near nine km/h or six mph and this general motion is expected to continue at a faster forward speed today.
On this forecast track, the Met Service said the centre of Sandy will reach the southern coast of Jamaica, in the vicinity of Clarendon and St Catherine, near midday today, then cross the island before exiting via St Ann.
The storm is expected to produce rainfall in excess of 150 millimetres per day; hence, flash flooding is expected.
"Hurricane-force winds will gradually develop during Wednesday morning and could generate storm surge of one - two metres or three - seven feet along Jamaica's south-eastern coastline," the Met service said. Periods of heavy rainfall and gusty winds are likely to persist through to tomorrow.
Director General of ODPEM Ronald Jackson told the Jamaica Observer that evacuation of some vulnerable communities was expected to begin last night, as soon as the Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC) completes transportation of its customers.
"We hope evacuation will commence once the notice is issued around midnight, and we are hoping that will continue until the time the system makes landfall," Jackson said.
Among the priority communities for evacuation are Nine Miles, Ten Miles, and Taylor Land in Bull Bay, and communities such as Kintyre and Tavern along the Hope River in St Andrew. Other areas for immediate evacuation include Sandy Gully and Port Royal.
Up to press time, one person was already housed at the island's largest shelter -- the National Arena in Kingston.
Jackson told the Observer that ODPEM only has enough resources to stock 150 of the priority shelters, although all 900 shelters will be made available across the island.
"We may have to shift resources more south and north-easterly shelters based on the forecast," Jackson said.
The NWA said its crews are on islandwide alert and are prepared to respond to pre- and post-tropical storm eventualities.
The works agency said equipment have been deployed at critical locations which are prone to slippage and other stakeholders have been contacted to assist with emergency activities if the need arises.
Meanwhile, operations at the island's two airports are expected to cease operations today until it is safe to reopen the facilities.
Elizabeth Scotton, chief commercial officer at Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay, said the airport will close immediately after the first outbound flight at approximately 8:00 this morning.
Travellers, she said, are encouraged to contact respective airlines directly, regarding flight operations.
Grace Morrison, communications manager at the Norman Manley International Airport in Kingston, said the runway should be closed as of 10:00 last night.
"The airport will remain closed and reopen as soon as the weather system permits and the public will be notified," she said.
Up to press time last night, a number of utility providers had already implemented emergency plans.
The Jamaica Public Service said it has activated its emergency operations to facilitate quick response in the event of damage to its power delivery infrastructure.
Head of Corporate Communications Winsome Callum said the company has an Emergency Operation Centre in each parish, from which technical teams will be deployed to carry out restorative work.
Callum said customers may experience fluctuating supply or lose their power altogether as a result of the weather conditions.
She told the Observer that the company will not have to shut down power if the Sandy remains at category one strength, the landfall forecast made by meteorologists.
"There are no plans to shutdown because a category one hurricane does not have that great an impact to necessitate a shutdown, as usually such a situation only occurs when we are facing a category four of five system," she explained.
The National Water Commission (NWC) has also reported a high state of readiness in its disaster preparedness machinery, while at the same time cautioning that its systems remain vulnerable and hence may be affected.
Acting Corporate Public Relations Manager Karen Williams said several steps have been taken to reduce the risk of damage to its systems and to enable the speediest and most effective return to normality should they become affected.
The state-owned JUTC said it will be operating on a scaled-down basis today and the severity of the system will determine what time operation will cease for the day.