Monday, August 20th, 2007...1:42 pm

After the storm … returning to normal

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Daraine Luton,  Gleaner Staff Reporter

Jamaicans awoke today to scenes of destruction in the aftermath of Hurricane Dean, which tore through sections of the island last night and claimed at least one life in Manchester.

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Photo by Rudolph Brown/Chief Photographer: damage caused to a house in Central Kingston by a tree that was felled by Hurricane Dean on Sunday. 

The police also reported two deaths but could not yet confirm they were related to the hurricane, while there were claims that an elderly man was killed in Golden Spring, St. Andrew when a house collapsed last night.

The category four storm however spared the nation the full extent of its wrath as its centre passed some 50 miles of the south coast  after threatening a direct hit as it barrelled towards the island on the weekend.

Ronald Jackson, Director General of the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM), told The Gleaner this morning that the eastern parish of St. Thomas was the hardest hit.

Communication with that parish as well as St. Elizabeth has been difficult as telephone networks have gone down and some roads are impassable.

Meanwhile, reports of looting prompted Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller to last night advise that a state of public emergency had been declared for the island.

“We are all aware that Hurricane Dean has severely affected Jamaica where the safety of the public is likely to be endangered and the various communities within Jamaica may be deprived of supplies and services that are essential to life,” said the Prime Minister in a statement read by Huntley Medley, Executive Director of the Jamaica Information Service (JIS).

“We are also aware that during and after natural disasters there have been widespread attempts at looting and other threats to public safety. As Prime Minister I have advised the Governor General to declare a state of public emergency has arisen,” she said.

Under the decree, the security forces are given wider powers to deal with criminal elements. The Government will review the state of emergency this afternoon when Mrs. Simpson Miller meets with her Cabinet.

This is the second time in three years that a state of public emergency has been announced. Just before the arrival of Hurricane Ivan in 2004, then Prime Minister  P.J. Patterson declared a state of public emergency in light of the expected severity of that storm. At that time, then Opposition Leader Edward Seaga criticised the Prime Minister, arguing that the move was “a premature act that is taken in panic”.

Similarly, Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) spokesman on justice Delroy Chuck last night said he had not heard any reports to suggest a state of emergency was justified, but opted to wait until receiving further reports today before coming to any conclusions.  

Reports out of Mandeville, Manchester, are that a man was killed when the vehicle he was travelling in was lifted and thrown against a utility pole by strong winds.

This morning Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP) Mark Shields said two bodies were found in Old Harbour, St. Catherine, but could not say whether they were casualties of the hurricane.

The hurricane’s wind speed was measured at 63 miles per hour at the Meteorological Services of Jamaica at the Norman Manley International Airport before its equipment failed. There are unofficial reports of wind speeds reaching more that 100mph.

The storm, which headed further south, sparing the Cayman Islands, has been so far blamed for at least seven deaths in the Caribbean.

The ODPEM said it was too early to estimate the impact of damage cause by the storm.

Mr. Jackson said this morning that, although it was still early days, “it looks better than what we saw in Hurricane Ivan”.

Nineteen people died during Ivan in 2004, a powerful Category four storm which, like Dean, did not make a direct hit on Jamaica. Eight of those persons drowned in the flood prone community of Portland Cottage in Clarendon, from where residents were ordered out when Dean threatened.

“We have seen more of roof damage and fallen trees and less of landslides and floodings,” Mr. Jackson told The Gleaner.

Just over 5,000 persons sought refuge in approximately 231 shelters across the island.

Up to press time this morning, the ODPEM said it was trying to get information out of all 14 parishes but was experiencing glitches as communication lines had gone down.

Stephen Shaw, communications director at the National Works Agency (NWA), said his agency has not been able to make contact with most parishes. Mr. Shaw added however that many roadways in St. James, Hanover and Westmoreland have been affected.

Across the island. power lines were down and light poles crashed to the ground under the hurricane’s fury. Many of the light poles  revealed a lack of maintenance as they were rotting at the base. Many trees were down by the heavy rains and roofs flew through the air. Advertising billboards and signs and sections of buildings flattened.

The Jamaica Public Service Company (JPSCo) was forced to turn off electricity.

Winsome Callum, corporate communications manager at the light and power company,  said it could take “a couple of days” before power is restored in some areas.

“The JPS’s first priority after the hurricane is to carry out damage assessment,” the JPS said in  a release. “The main focus must first be to identify and fix damage to our power plants and main transmission lines, because without these systems customers cannot get electricity.”

The JPS said once this phase of repair is completed, electricity will first be restored to the main lines that provide electricity to essential services such as hospitals, airports, communication systems, and water supply facilities.

Meanwhile Charles Buchanan, communications manager at the National Water Commission (NWC) said all of the 460 water supply systems serving the island had been affected by either the absence of power, damage to infrastructure or high terbidility levels in the water caused by mud entering the water supply.

Mr. Buchanan said it was too early to say how extensive damage to the system was but noted that essential areas such as hospitals and health centres will be given priority as the NWC does restoration work.

By mid-afternoon on Sunday, many Jamaicans seemed to have yielded to the  warning that the storm was coming and opted to stay indoors. However, several others were up until the last minute trying to get a glimpse of the onslaught that was to come.

In the eastern end of the island, for example, numerous persons were seen watching the powerful waves beat the shoreline.

The last time Jamaica suffered a direct hit from a hurricane was in September 1988 when Gilbert, a category three storm ravaged the country, killing about 45 people.

Gilbert was the most severe hurricane to hit Jamaica since Hurricane Charlie in 1951. It destroyed crops, buildings, houses and roads and even turned small aircraft into shambles.

In 2005 hurricanes Dennis and Emily lashed the island with winds and rainfall but neither were as catastrophic as Ivan.

Feedback: daraine.luton@gleanerjm.com

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