June 2000 Table
COULD BE WORSE NEXT TIME...
At a Hurricane Preparedness Seminar held in Marsh Harbour on 11th May, noted meteorologist
Brian Norcross of CBS News, Miami, said that Abaco could expect a continued increase
in hurricane frequency over the next two decades.
Referring to the research of Professor Bill Gray of Colorado State University, Mr
Norcross said a pattern has been recognised in the Atlantic which leads to 25-30
year cycles of low hurricane activity followed by a similar period of high hurricane
activity. During the early 40's up to about 1967 there was plenty of hurricane activity. The
70's, 80's and 90's up to 1994 saw little in the way of hurricanes. Indeed, the period
from 1990 to 1994 had the fewest hurricanes on record for a five year stretch. Hurricane Andrew in 1992 was a category 4 aberration. The period from 1995 to 1999 had
the most hurricane activity on record and included category 5 Hurricane Mitch, and
Hurricane Floyd, which was a category 4 at one stage.
"The ocean and atmosphere interact closely," Mr Norcross said. "Indeed, they are almost
the same thing." Data has been collected for a long time and oceanographers and meteorologists
can now forecast the severity of each hurricane season. "There are temperature changes in the Atlantic with the South Atlantic sometimes being half a degree
Fahrenheit warmer than the North Atlantic, causing low hurricane activity in our
region. Then, after 25 to 30 years the North Atlantic becomes half a degree warmer
than the South Atlantic and hurricane activity increases appreciably." The increased hurricane
incidence since 1995 should last until about 2020.
Chief Councillor Silbert Mills told those present that Hurricane Floyd could have
been much worse. Organised as a category 4 storm as it skirted Eleuthera with a well
defined eye, Hurricane Floyd 'changed eyes' over Abaco and weakened. He noted that
Hurricane Floyd was a category 2 hurricane which caused tidal surge damage but little in
the way of wind damage. "Had Hurricane Floyd been a category 4 storm, much more damage
would have been sustained." He noted that Pizza Hut and the Admiral Yacht Haven were
both destroyed by storm surges. "But two villas just a few yards away survived unscathed."
The seminar opened with addresses from Senator Michael Bethel and Island Administrator
Everette Hart. Senator Bethel also referred to the findings of Professor Bill Gray
on the cyclical nature of hurricane activity. Administrator Hart said that during
his whole life he had only encountered two small hurricanes. "I came to Abaco in 1995
and I have lost count of the hurricanes since." He noted that the effects of Floyd
- physical, financial and emotional - were still with us. "If we get another Floyd
this year, even the strong would not survive!"
Reports were given by councillors Alex Davis (Mores Island), Stanley White (South
Abaco), Everette Bootle (Coopers Town) and Silbert Mills (Central Abaco) on the effects
of Floyd in their districts and the progress towards normality. Charlamae Fernander,
Chief Welfare Officer, said her department had provided and maintained supplies to
the hurricane shelters until the shelters were closed. Emergency Food Coupons had
been handed out and her department continues to distribute clothing, shoes and food.
The only representative of the utility corporations present was Benjamin Beneby of
BEC. Although those present said that they had missed electricity more than telephone,
Mr Beneby noted that it was the lack of communication - particularly with the Cays
where undersea cables had been broken - that frustrated BEC. There was not enough manpower
to look after everybody at one time. When a team came in from St Lucia, it had to
be decided whether they worked to restore Man-O-War Cay or Sandy Point. Man-O-War
Cay was chosen because of its greater economic importance. A little later a team from
the US helped restore electricity to Sandy Point.
ASP Leeland Russell, Officer in Charge of the Abaco Police Department, said that sometimes
a disaster is so widespread that normal contingency plans break down. Communication
is important as lack of communication can cause deaths. "In an emergency, I assume control and coordinate services. I should be told of all reports. It is the first
duty of the Royal Bahamas Police Force to preserve life."
Dr Swana of Marsh Harbour Clinic and Dan Wiltfang of Trauma One both spoke on health
matters. Dr Swana was in Sandy Point at the time of Hurricane Floyd and needed an
emergency flight for a patient. He had to beg the use of a private satellite phone
to call in an air ambulance and trucks lined the runway so their lights could guide the
plane in the night. Dan Wiltfang said his main responsibility was to preserve and
protect his equipment during the storm so it would be functional afterwards. He also
said VHF radios were important so Trauma One could work closely with fire departments, police
and social services.
Fire Chiefs Claude Sawyer of Marsh Harbour and Troy Mills of Dundas Town both stressed
that their volunteer fire departments respond to other emergencies, not only fires.
They have generators, pumps and chain saws on hand. They also needed radios. "And
please," Mr Mills asked the public, "get out of the way and let the firefighters do their
District Education Superintendent Jackson McIntosh said there were 16 government schools
on the island and too often they were designated as hurricane shelters without any
inspection or regard as to their suitability. Central Abaco Primary School was used
during Floyd and it was discovered that some windows and doors were not properly sealed.
He felt that the hurricane committee should inspect the classrooms before they are
used again. He also felt that access to toilets should be provided, along with a
Sarone Kennedy was in charge of Central Abaco Primary School shelter during Floyd
and said the available rooms were filled to capacity. A clear chain of command was
needed, he said, as well as equipment and supplies, medical personnel, security officers,
electricity and some form of communication. Non-ambulatory persons and small children
needed special attention. "People are the only irreplaceable commodity we have,"
said Mr Kennedy. "Let's put safety first and forget about our differences until the
emergency is over."
Patty Toler of the Cruiser's Net on VHF said that they disseminate accurate weather
and other information. Boat visitors to Abaco form a community of their own. Cruiser's
Net forwarded 1,500 telephone messages in the first 24 hours following Floyd. The
Ham Net was the weak link, Patty noted. "We need more ham operators and all emergency
services should have VHF radios."
Commander Steven Russell of the Royal Bahamas Defence Force has served on the Bahamas
National Disaster Committee for eight years and told the audience that the Cabinet
Office was the emergency headquarters. He stressed that the more done before a hurricane means the less there is to do afterwards. He said there would be satellite phones
on all islands before the next hurricane struck.
Senior Deputy Administrator Jordan Ritchie told of his harrowing experiences in Tegucigalpa,
Honduras, during the category 5 Hurricane Mitch in 1998. "When it was all over,"
he said, "the streets were thick with deep mud, and in the mud there were bodies."
The seminar ended with a dashing presentation from Michael Wallace of the Department
of Environmental Health & Ministry of Consumer Welfare. He delineated the differences
between Emergency, Disaster and Catastrophe then showed the chains of command and
areas of responsibility during emergencies, especially those brought on by hurricanes.
TROPICAL STORM NAMES FOR 2000 SEASON
Alberto, Beryl, Chris, Debby, Ernesto, Florence, Gordon, Helene, Isaac, Joyce, Keith,
Leslie, Michael, Nadine, Oscar, Patty, Rafael, Sandy, Tony, Valerie and William.
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