By Emmanuel Joseph
Even as Tropical Storm Tammy is expected to pass well north of Barbados on Friday, a tropical storm watch came with a sobering declaration from the head of the insurance industry that roughly half the island’s houses are uninsured.
Minutes after a Thursday evening briefing in which he was updated by the Barbados Meteorological Services, which predicted that the storm would pass about 193 kilometres (120 miles) to the north of the island, the President of the General Insurance Association of Barbados Randy Graham urged residents not to take Tammy lightly, raising an alarm that too many householders are failing to prioritise insuring their properties.
He told Barbados TODAY: “The bulk of the houses in Barbados as well as in the Eastern Caribbean that have insurance on them are those that have mortgages with the bank. They mandate you have insurance to protect the value of the house. About 50 per cent of the houses in Barbados have insurance, which you can understand our concern.”
He appealed to residents to consider the implications of not having insurance in the event of a hurricane.
“Can you imagine a hurricane coming over Barbados and half of the houses that needed to be repaired, half cannot afford to find the funds to be repaired? We are going to be in a state of catastrophe. We need to be able to get the money to rebuild these homes,” Graham said.
“That is why we keep pushing the mantra of getting insurance for homes. If we don’t get the money in [through premiums] for the clients to get to rebuild their houses, obviously, if half the country is not insured, it’s a big chunk we have to find elsewhere.”
Both timber and concrete houses were among the uninsured properties, the GIAB head said.
He added: “We are talking about an average of 20 named storms [predicted for the 2023 Atlantic hurricane season] and any one can come to Barbados. You can’t take it lightly, you have to be prepared for these oncoming storms.
“While [Tropical Storm Tammy] is expected north of Barbados, you can never tell how these storms would behave, so you have to prepare yourselves.”
Director of Meteorological Services Sabu Best cautioned on Thursday night that it is possible that Tropical Storm Tammy could pass even closer to Barbados than what satellite images suggest.
He said: “Because it has such a broad centre…if the centre reconsolidates and forms somewhere further south or wobbles, a warning could be issued at short notice.
“But Tammy has been well-behaved so far. Let’s give her credit for that. She has been well-behaved in terms of her current trajectory…. [There is] pretty good confidence that that trajectory or track should continue tonight into tomorrow….
“[The storm will pass] towards the northwest come tomorrow afternoon. Any deviation from that…would obviously mean that the centre could come closer to Barbados, and the winds, from the southeast periphery that we are watching…barely under tropical storm force winds…those winds are expected to pass just north of Barbados… as the centre passes just about a hundred miles to our north come tomorrow afternoon,” added the island’s chief weather watcher.
As Barbadians awaited the storm’s passage, mariners and seabathers were advised to stay clear of the sea as maritime conditions were expected to worsen with the cyclone’s approach. A small craft caution and strong surf advisory were officially in effect, further underscoring the significance of being prepared.
“This is not the time to be complacent,” warned Deputy Director of the Department of Emergency Management (DEM) Captain Robert Harewood, who also urged citizens to take proactive measures to protect themselves, considering the potential impact of the approaching system.
He stressed that complacency is not an option, citing recent experiences with feeder bands from Tropical Storm Phillippe as a reminder of the unpredictable nature of storms.
“We at the DEM implore each and every one of you not to take any chances,” he said. “If the system passes us without significant or minimal impact, we would have been able to test our systems and identify any areas for improvement. But, if it impacts us, we will be ready to ride it out safely and effectively respond.”
Despite the storm watch, Minister of Home Affairs and Information Wilfred Abrahams confirmed that there was no shutdown ordered for Barbados. He explained that officials would continue to monitor the storm’s progress and provide updates if necessary.
However, in anticipation of potential disruptions, the Queen Elizabeth Hospital has activated its Emergency Management Plan, leading to the suspension of the outpatient clinic, pharmacy and elective surgeries from midday on Friday. The Accident and Emergency Department remains open to the public.
The hospital’s management is closely monitoring the situation and will provide periodic updates to keep the public informed, said hospital spokesman Shane Sealy.
“We at the QEH serve a vulnerable population and management has made these decisions in the best interest of patients, staff and visitors,” he said in a statement.
“If the weather does not deteriorate, management will review the suspension of services previously mentioned.”
The QEH said it will issue periodic updates on its website, social media pages, and traditional media sources, he added.
Tropical Storm Tammy, with maximum sustained winds of nearly 96 kilometres per hour (60 miles per hour), was near 190 miles east-northeast of Barbados at 8 p.m. on Friday. The system had slowed and was tracking west-north westerly at about 10 mph.
According to the most recent Met Office forecast, Barbados is expected to experience occasional gusts reaching storm force, said Best who stressed in a national television interview that sustained storm force winds were not anticipated given the storm’s trajectory on Thursday evening.
Marine conditions were expected to deteriorate from Thursday night with moderate to rough swells of eight to eleven feet in the open ocean.