“We have never experienced anything like this before, but the country is prepared.”
This was the assurance given by Barbadian Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of the Turks and Caicos Sun Newspaper Hayden Boyce today as the British overseas territory prepared for the expected onslaught from Hurricane Irma.
With memories of Ike which slammed the country exactly nine years ago as a ferocious category 4 storm still fresh in their minds, Boyce said residents were simply taking no chances.
Therefore, from the first indication that the troublesome storm was headed their way, islanders went into full preparation mode and have been bracing for the worst.
“Over the last couple of days you would have seen some businesses using the tradition plywood [shutters to shield their buildings] and cutting down trees and so on,” he said.
At 5p.m. the centre of the storm was located 20.9 degrees north, 71.1 degrees west or about 40 milrd (65 kilometres) south of Grand Turk.
The system is packing maximum sustained winds of 175 miles per hour (280 kilometres per hour) and is moving west north west at 16 miles per hour.
Forecasters say the powerful storm is expected to move near the TCI and the southeastern Bahamas on Thursday night, before taking aim at Cuba between Friday and Saturday as it makes its way out of the Caribbean where it has already been blamed for ten deaths and a huge trail of destruction.
To date, Barbuda, along with neighbouring Anguilla and St Marteen, have been hardest hit, with disaster officials in these three territories already estimating millions of dollars in losses.
However, Boyce expressed confidence that TCI, which was among countries hardest hit by Ike back in September 2008 and suffered largescale infrastructural damage, would be able to weather the storm this time around.
“First of all the building code here is very strong. It is one of the strongest in the Caribbean. Even when we had Hurricane Ike, there was not that much structural damage,” he said, while pointing out that “most of the people who build their homes do so with hurricane proof windows and doors”.
However, he did acknowledge that some homes had lost their roofs during Ike’s passage and that with Irma “we are expecting storm surges to be in the region of 20 feet.
“If that is to be true, that will pose a serious threat to the hotels because 20 feet is about two storeys,” he said , adding that “any surge of that magnitude will be devastating to the Turks and Caicos Islands”.
Earlier today, the government of Haiti ordered a national shut down with president Jovenel Moise warning Haitians that Irma was not a game and that they needed to put their safety first.
Meanwhile, all schools in the country were closed on Wednesday and Thursday, and more than 800 temporary shelters opened.
In Puerto Rico, nearly 70 per cent of households were left without power in the wake of the Irma’s passage, which otherwise left the island largely unscathed, Governor Ricardo Rosselló said on Thursday.
Roughly 40 per cent of the territory’s hospitals were functioning, he said, and were accepting transfers of about 40 patients from the United States Virgin Islands.
Power outages have left about 17 per cent of the territory without running water, the Puerto Rican official added.