The day Gilbert ravaged Jamaica

The day Gilbert ravaged Jamaica


Thursday, September 12, 2013

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Today marks the 25th anniversary of the day Hurricane Gilbert unleashed its fury on Jamaica, killing more than 40 persons and leaving millions of dollars in damage.

SUNDAY night, September 11, 1988, New Kingston was alive with mostly young people having a good time at The Club, one of the hottest spots in the capital city at the time.

For the most part they, like many other Jamaicans, had ignored TV weatherman Roy Forrester's forecast that Tropical Storm Gilbert had strengthened to a category 3 hurricane and had Jamaica in its crosshairs.

The following morning they awoke to the reality that Jamaica was about to be clobbered by this monster hurricane, which had exited the African coastline on September 3 and had developed into the 12th tropical depression of the season on September 8 on its approach to the Windward Islands.

Convinced that Jamaica would receive Gilbert's full force, the authorities warned Jamaicans to stay indoors.

Instructions as to what to expect as the eye passed over the island were also issued: The wind and rain will cease, they said, but that will not be the end of the storm, so be careful.

Then, near mid-morning, electricity was cut off and the country waited in fear.

Making landfall on Jamaica's eastern tip at approximately 9:00 am, Gilbert, packing winds of near 130 miles per hour, ravaged the entire island.

Official data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) show that Gilbert claimed 45 lives in Jamaica. The monster cyclone also destroyed hundreds of homes and infrastructure, downed electricity poles, and wiped out crops and livestock.

Extensive flooding was also reported across the island as Gilbert produced storm surges up to 19 feet high and dumped more than 32 inches of rain on the country.

The damage was so devastating that then Prime Minister Edward Seaga, after an aerial tour of the island, said that the country looked like Hiroshima after the atom bomb was dropped on that Japanese city in World War II.

Total damage was estimated at US$4 billion.

After its rampage across Jamaica, Gilbert strengthened to a category 4 storm on September 13 and slammed Grand Cayman before gaining category 5 strength to pulverise the north-east coast of Mexico's Yucatan peninsula on September 14.

It eventually weakened to category 2 before unleashing its fury on the western Gulf of Mexico.

According to the NOAA, "estimates are that Gilbert produced between 15 and 20 feet of surge along the Yucatan and eight to 13 feet at landfall in mainland Mexico".

The NOAA also reported that Gilbert's remnants spawned 29 tornadoes over Texas on September 18, with flooding spreading to the US Midwest as the remnants merged with a frontal boundary over Missouri on September 19.

In addition to the 45 deaths in Jamaica, the NOAA said that Gilbert accounted for 202 deaths in Mexico, 30 in Haiti, 12 in Guatemala, 12 in Honduras, five in the Dominican Republic, five in Venezuela, three in the United States, two in Costa Rica, and two in Nicaragua.

The deaths in Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Venezuela, the NOAA said, were caused by inland flash flooding from outer rain bands associated with Gilbert.

Weather experts said that Gilbert was the most destructive storm in Jamaica's history and the most severe storm since Hurricane Charlie in 1951.

The day after Gilbert's passage, Ceta Nembhard (now deceased), a Kingston resident who had experienced Hurricane Charlie, remarked: "Well, me did think Charlie did bad, but after yesterday, Charlie a bwoy!"

The extensive damage caused by Gilbert resulted in the World Meteorological Organisation retiring the name in the spring of 1989, replacing it with Gordon.

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