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Caribbean eyeing hurricane season

Bert Wilkinson | 6/5/2014, 10:57 a.m.

The annual hurricane season officially began this week, and several governments in the Caribbean say they are reviewing plans to deal with any eventuality despite international predictions that this year will be quieter than usual.

The American National Hurricane Center in Miami has said that the periodic El Nino phenomenon—which increases atmospheric stability in the hemisphere, making it difficult for cloud clusters from Africa to strengthen storms heading to the Caribbean and the Americas—is one reason why forecasters say the season might be below par this year.

Still, many governments in the region, as well as the Barbados-based umbrella Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency, are urging people in the region—from Guyana and Suriname on the South American mainland to those in the Bahamas and Belize—to be prepared for the very worst, as only one devastating storm could cause enough havoc to change the way they live for decades to come.

Current predictions, including those from researchers from the respected Colorado State University, say there is a 50 percent chance of a below normal period, a 40 percent chance of a near normal season and 10 percent chance of one above predictions. The season officially began on June 1 and usually concludes at the end of November.

The forecast is for eight to 13 named storms developing in the far Atlantic off Africa’s west coast, including about two major hurricanes.

Helping the region to be prepared in the meantime, the European Union has already made available about sterling 8 million in grant aid to governments and support organizations to reduce vulnerabilities related to hurricanes and other natural disasters like floods, mudslides and earthquakes, among others. Some of the money will go toward buying two-way radio sets, loudspeakers and repairs to storm shelters as preparations are heightened for the season.

In July of last year, tropical storm Chantal triggered heavy rains, floods and landslides in some of the smaller Eastern Caribbean islands, causing about a dozen deaths and damage to telecommunication and the electricity infrastructure. It also cut off several villages.

This week, Barbados emergency response official Kerry Hinds urged citizens not to take the season lightly and to be prepared for eventualities.

“I always say preparedness is a shared responsibility. It is not just the Department of Emergency Management or the response agencies like the Barbados Defense Force and the police and fire, but it is all of us here in Barbados. We at the national level, we continue to put our preparedness efforts in place because we have to prepare for our response mechanisms, not only here in Barbados, but as evidenced last year, where Barbados would have assisted in the response efforts in our neighboring islands of St. Vincent, St. Lucia and Dominica. So we also have that sub-regional responsibility to our neighbors,” she said.

In Jamaica and some of the other islands, authorities are clearing drains and gullies and getting ready as regional officials urge all to be prepared.