KINGSTON –– If weather experts are on target in their predictions for the 2016 Atlantic hurricane season, communities, including those along the country’s coastline, must brace themselves for a tempestuous ride not seen since 2012. But some residents in these communities who barely escaped with their lives from previous hurricanes said they are not budging.
The hurricane season began Wednesday, and according to the deputy director general of the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM), Richard Thompson, with 14 storms projected, and at least three expected to develop into major hurricanes, this season will be the most active in four years.
Every year, communities along the island’s coastline and on the edges of rivers and gullies experience massive flooding, causing serious devastation.
Many persons living in such conditions have always refused to relocate.
In some of the badly affected communities, specifically Manchioneal in Portland; Portland Cottage in Clarendon; and Broadgate in St Mary, residents revealed to The Gleaner their reasons for not wanting to relocate during storms. They told us why they continue to reside at their homes knowing that at anytime they and their families can be washed away.
Maud Richards, who lives by the coast in Manchioneal and who has been there as far back as Hurricane Gilbert in 1988, said she usually leaves her home for shelter at Manchioneal All-Age School at the last minute.
“Mi firs’ hurricane is in Gilbert. We fix up the place after Gilbert; we remodel the house. Wi come back again and wi have more hurricane round here. When the sea come, the height is high, more than the house. Mi a tell yuh seh is not an easy task wi have roun’ here,” she said.
“Mi affi definitely see when the hurricane a come before mi lef still, enuh. When mi see it mount up high and the first wave come, I don’t leave out. When the last wave come now and mi see it wash pon di wall, mi jus’ tek up two piece a clothes and run to the shelter out by the school.”
She added: “Mi did give up. But wi affi come back cause a wi roots, a weh wi born and grow.”
In Portland Cottage, Mark Belnavis is a fisherman who has had years of hurricane experience on the beach.
“When Hurricane Dean come, wi get a big impact; it cover everything. Mash up all boats; every boat it tek up and carry dung dat side,” Belnavis said.
He highlighted that persons in his community still live along the coast because they have nowhere else to go.
Donald Shaw, from Broadgate, in St Mary, is hoping for the best throughout this and future hurricane seasons. He, his wife and six children live on the edge of a river that wreaks havoc during heavy rains.
“I just pray to God and hope the best at all time, because we all have to watch weh it a do and dem thing deh. When it catch stormy time, is a serious thing; very dangerous when it catch this side of St Mary. It carry weh whole heap o’ house, goats, pigs, everything that on the riverside hang out. In Hurricane Ivan, around two house or three house lost [washed away].
“Mi know is a risky thing, we just chance. I born come see people running chance because we don’t have any other choice. I don’t have anywhere else to go. It nuh really push me to move, but anywhere river walk one time, I know it going to walk back there again, so I just hope the best at all times, not for me alone [but] fi di whole community,” he said.
ODPEM’S Deputy Director General Richard Thompson told The Gleaner that predictions are that Jamaica will experience a more than active hurricane season and appealed to persons living in flood prone areas to get out when a major storm is expected.
“When you look at vulnerability in a greater sense, persons who are classified to be the poorer in our community tend to be most vulnerable. It impedes their ability to prepare. So poverty and vulnerability explicitly are linked,” Thompson said.
“When you look at vulnerability, there are certain aspects that tend to lead to vulnerability. One of it is poverty and a person’s ability to put in mitigation measures. Also, when you look at where people live, a lot of it has to do with enforcement. Some people will say it’s because they can’t afford anything else. We always say to people, listen to the messages. If you are in an area that tends to flood and something major is happening, get out.”