Barbados has been lucky not to have experienced a major hurricane since David in 1979.
And with Irma, the tenth named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season and a category five cyclone, leaving a trail of death and destruction in the Lesser Antilles, a top regional disaster management consultant is warning that this island would not have been able to withstand such wrath.
Roy Ward, who previously advised government on disaster management, said while Barbados may be able to survive structurally, it would suffer substantial infrastructural damage were it to encounter a system of Irma’s intensity.
However, Ward lamented that the country as a whole was still not taking disaster preparedness seriously and that many were either not heeding nature’s warnings or preparing for the likelihood of such natural disasters.
“A true lesson is finding a way to not let people build houses in flood zones. A true lesson is not allowing people to build within a hundred feet of a shoreline. That is still going on and until those things change we will still have damage,” he cautioned.
“If you allow people to build houses in a flood zone and you get seven or eight inches of rain and you get flash flooding, the water comes through the front door, goes out the back door and takes the occupants with it,” he added while suggesting that the onus was on Government to ensure that residents did not construct homes in flood zones.
In recent years, the island has seen an increase in construction, particularly of multi-million dollar villas and other buildings along the island’s coastline.
However, the disaster consultant is warning that had Irma hit Barbados in the way that it impacted the northern Caribbean between Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, the result would have been catastrophic.
“It would have put at least 15 feet of salt water through the front door and drowned the individuals living inside. Whose fault is that? Government because they allowed individuals to build along the shoreline. That needs to stop.
“The only way that you can reduce damage is by not putting yourself in a position where you will get damage. That is a lesson that still have not been learnt.
“The Andrews, the Gilberts . . . all of these storms that have had serious shoreline damage as a direct result of Government, of planning, of urban development . . . allowing these buildings to be put within a hundred feet of the shoreline and until you move them, you will always have damage. That is a lesson to be learnt,” Ward told Barbados TODAY.
In the wake of Irma, he further warned Barbadians not to take the work of the local met office for granted or to fall into the trap of believing that a major disaster “is not going to happen here.”
He lamented that there were “many armchair emergency specialists sitting behind desks and playing with weather services off the Internet”, saying “no one is ever sure who is right or wrong.
“Unfortunately, that is when you get problems because you have people who are accessing similar data to what the weather service has and making their own position and opinion as to what should be done. This causes conflict. . . and the interpretation of an amateur versus the interpretation of a professional causes the problem,” he said, while stressing that this is one of the things that the Caribbean needs to fix.