THE number of Jamaicans in shelters has started to inch upward following reports from communities cut off in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy which ripped through the island wreaking havoc on its East Coast late Wednesday.
"It has started going back up. We are getting into places where we couldn't get communication before. We are starting to find communities that were not reporting in before," Director General of the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM) Ronald Jackson told the Jamaica Observer before late Friday.
ODPEM's Deputy Director General Richard Thompson told the Sunday Observer that the figures had started growing Friday morning.
The ODPEM had on Thursday evening advised that the shelter population — which had risen from a low of 51 to a high of 1,898 persons in about 140 shelters — had fallen closer to 204 persons in eight shelters. But by late Friday evening, that number was in the balance.
"There are 19 shelters now open with 309 persons," Thompson said.
"As we get more information coming out of the Eastern parishes, the numbers will go up. We are expecting the numbers to rise because that area was severely impacted and we have just resumed communication," Thompson said, adding that some shelters elsewhere would "still be closing".
ODPEM said it had lost communication with parts of St Thomas, Portland and St Mary due to power outages but newly re-established contact had yielded new figures.
In the meantime, he said the prospect of returning to school on Monday for all children residing in those areas was still dim.
"There are a number of schools still being used as shelters in these areas. What we are trying to do to meet the Monday resumption is, as best as possible, find alternate areas — mainly community centres and churches. We are not even sure if for those areas we can still have full resumption of schools on Monday because we are still assessing," Thompson said.
He noted that the picture will be clearer after ODPEM completes its damage assessment in those areas.
"We will be better able to inform the process then. A lot of the information coming to us is that they had severe roof damage in those areas, so it's likely those shelters will have to remain open longer. We have areas where persons are reporting total destruction of houses. We will be able to give the figures following the assessment," he added.
In the meantime, he said ODPEM was confident in its ability to sustain persons now in need of assistance.
"In this kind of situation, we normally get assessment from our donor community... we should be able, with their assistance and other agencies pooling in as well as the volunteer community, to serve the needs," Thompson told the Observer.