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Ivan the Terrible –

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Today, Wednesday, the day this article is being written, is literally the day after and really once again St.Vincent and the Grenadines was saved, the Grenadines getting the worst of what came to us. We have to be thankful to the Lord for having saved us from the full brunt of Ivan the terrible. Grenada unfortunately got the full force of the storm and although reports are hard to come by there is every indication that it suffered severe destruction. {{more}} One friend from Grenada claimed that from where he is living as he looks around there was only one roof still sitting where it is supposed to. Radio 900, Barbados, quoted a Grenadian Opposition spokesman to the effect that the country was about 85 percent destroyed. Even taking into account the possibility of some exaggeration, based on the limited reports it appears that Grenada is in a terrible state.
The Trinidad Express of Wednesday, September 8, did provide us with some information. Although by the time this paper hits the street the information would have been more widely available and there would have been a more reliable assessment, I will quote from the Express, both as a point of reference for myself and to give an indication of the initial reaction: “Grenada felt the full brunt of this storm,” said Chris Hennon, a meteorologist at the US National Hurricane Centre in Miami. “Ivan’s eye was split in half over the island” with the northern part in the eye wall, the most dangerous part, he said. St George’s, with its historic English Georgian and French provincial buildings, is in the south…In Grenada, howling winds raged through the winding hilly streets of St George’s, the capital, uprooting trees and utility poles, thrashing concrete homes into piles of rubble and knocking out telephone service and electricity.”
As we reflect on what has happened to us we would obviously be chastened by the bits and pieces we are hearing from and about Grenada. While the eye of the hurricane passed over Grenada we would have suffered the tail effects, the outward extension of the winds. Well this is to put things into perspective and to say that once again we have been saved from the full effects of a hurricane. We have really in my life time only been getting the tail ends of these ferocious natural phenomena. The path of Ivan was quite confusing and reminds us somewhat of Hurricane Janet. At the time of Janet, however, the forecasting technology was not as developed as today. The Governor who was based in Grenada had apparently gone on air to extend his best wishes and hopes for the people of St.Vincent, hoping that they would be spared the full blast. During his broadcast, the Windward Island Broadcasting Service, WIBS, went off air and we learnt after that the hurricane had hit Grenada, instead of St.Vincent. At some point Ivan seemed to have been heading directly for us but appeared to have taken a slight dip south and then continued to move in a westerly rather than northwesterly direction. A north westerly movement at that time would have been disastrous for us.
We have to thank the radio stations and the announcers who worked through the period giving us coverage of the approaching hurricane. This was extremely important since it afforded some persons the opportunity of getting assistance when they found themselves in desperate situations. Having said all of that we need to warn the radio announcers to simply repeat the information they get from the Meteorological office and National Emergency Centre and not attempt to comment on or interpret any of the technical jargon. This was not regularly done but there were occasions and this created, at least in my mind, a bit of confusion. Traditionally the experts give the coordinates, that is, the latitude and longitude positions of the storm. They sometimes operate on the assumption that we all understand it. Perhaps some effort should be made by local officials to provide information about the exact location of St.Vincent and the Grenadines, that is latitude and longitude information, allowing us to better understand and follow the path of the storm/hurricane and to put things in perspective.
National Disaster Coordinator Howie Prince appeared to have been very much on the ball, but we did not hear very much about the National Committee and even more importantly the local committees. At least one caller stated that at some of the Centres there was no one in charge. I would have thought that this would have been the responsibility of the local disaster committees. Were these committees really functioning? Do the residents know the members of the Committee and who has charge of the particular centers? Furthermore, why do we have to wait until persons get into the emergency centres to hear that some of them are leaking and not in very good condition? I would assume that these Centres are checked out at the start of the hurricane season. What also needs to be done, say in the case of the schools, is to check with the teachers and principals about any problems encountered. Are they prone to flooding, for example?
Vinlec’s CEO was on the air on at least two occasions, warning persons to assume that any wire left hanging or on the ground was a live wire and also to let us know that Vinlec, after assessing possible dangers, makes a decision about turning off the system. What I would also like to know is if there are any emergency plans in place. He said his workers were waiting on the all clear signal to try to restore the systems. But what happens if the systems are badly damaged and not easily fixed? Are there any emergency plans? Regarding the telephone system I heard announcements to the effect that in the event of the loss of telephone service persons who wanted to get in touch with the National Disaster Centre or radio stations should contact a Ham Operator in their area. This is more easily said than done, given the fact that some of them serve a wide area and instructions were given that persons should stay off the streets. I am not sure, too, if these operators were publicly identified before.
Having gone through the experience of Ivan what the authorities need to do is to have an assessment of how smoothly things moved and where there were snags, identify them and make the necessary corrections. Did every thing live up to expectation? If they did not, why not? Often, it is only when things are in motion that we are able to assess the validity and practicality of some of the plans and in a position to make the necessary corrections. After hearing a call from someone in the hospital in one of the Grenadine islands, it has more than ever reinforced my view that special provisions need to be made for the Carib country area and the Grenadines. They can easily be cut off from the mainland as with the Grenadines or from the rest of the country, in the case of the Carib country. Things have to be put in place to allow them to function for days in the event of loss of contact. It is also alarming to hear a call from a hospital informing us that the building is in poor condition and not in a position to accept sick/injured persons. All places that deal with essential services should be thoroughly checked to ensure that as far as was humanly possible they could be operational in times of disasters.

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