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How does one begin to plan for a Category 5 hurricane?

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Our vocabulary has become strained in trying to describe the scale of destruction in the Caribbean in the wake of successive Category Five hurricanes. Across too many of our islands we have been made prostrate against this force of nature. Death, destruction and despair surround us.

As we express sympathy and try to stretch our meagre resources to extend help, it is our hope that here in St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) we have started to craft plans, on the individual, family, community, business and national levels, to survive a Category Five hurricane in the not improbable likelihood that one arrives here.

Our grim reality is that in the face of the monster hurricanes that we have been experiencing recently, we can only plan to survive and mitigate loss, for there is little room for preventing destruction. The whole host of factors involved – direction and velocity of wind, the rate of travel of the storm, the volume of water deposited by the storm, our topography, even time of landfall of hurricane (day or night), all make for a very unpredictable situation.

We can well accept that “it is what it is,” in other words those factors are beyond our influence. We can talk much about adhering to building codes, building stronger structures to withstand monster storms and the like. However, in the short to medium term, we are stuck with what we have now. We must, therefore, address this reality.

What should our focus be? When we see roofs of prime ministers’ residences, hospitals, national emergency headquarters and other places once considered “safe” being sent flying, then, clearly, identifying possibly “safe” shelters is not only a problem, it is a priority. Assessing the likely resistance of our shelters and critical buildings like hospitals and schools becomes even more necessary. Many of the shelters that we advertise are frankly, while “safer’ than many of our homes, not much of a safety guarantee in the face of an Irma or Maria.

In spite of all we say, very few of us are mentally prepared for surviving catastrophic storms of that ferocity. It is especially a problem for our country, which has been spared the worst of this type of hurricane for over a century. Developing the mindset to even conceptualize ourselves without basic amenities for weeks on end – no electricity, pipe-borne water, telecommunications services, and access to medical treatment – is itself a challenge. Putting measures in place to deal with such a situation is even more challenging.

If, by chance, there are those who think we are being melodramatic, then we only have to speak to, or listen to the stories of storm survivors from Barbuda, Anguilla or Tortola. Even residents of Dominica and Puerto Rico could never have, a mere one week ago, envisaged their current predicament, that their lives would have dramatically changed overnight.

Getting our priorities right and learning from the experiences of our Caribbean neighbours is key. Our scarce resources, while admittedly inadequate, must nevertheless be employed efficiently. Our emergency plans must be stripped apart and re-evaluated based on what we have learnt from the recent storms. We must step up our community education drives. Most of all, we all must be prepared to make realistic judgements and decisions, both on the personal and national levels. Our survival and the welfare of our nation depend on it.

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