Major storm troubles Caribbean

Bert Wilkinson | 10/6/2016, 11:01 a.m.

One of the worst storms to have hit the Caribbean in about a decade is being blamed for at least two deaths in Haiti and infrastructural damage in a number of countries, including Barbados and Jamaica, as people in Cuba, the Bahamas and Florida are also bracing for its arrival.

Hurricane Matthew, which had shut down airports across the Eastern Caribbean last week and had caused some damage to homes in Barbados, was packing winds of up to 145 miles per hour and storm surges that officials linked to the deaths of two fishermen in Haiti. One fisherman died when his boat capsized and another drowned as he tried to pull his boat ashore ahead of the storm’s arrival.

Caribbean governments and insurance companies, which have to find billions each year to replace damaged infrastructure, have persistently contended that they are not being taken seriously enough at international forums when they ask for concession aid from international lending and donor agencies to deal with after-storm recovery issues.

But they can clearly now point to damage from Matthew to a large swath of the region as proof that the bloc of mostly island nations needs to be treated as a special zone because of its high level of vulnerability to tough annual storms, volcanoes, earthquakes and floods, among other forms of natural disasters.

In Barbados, some local economists and businessmen complained about $10 million in losses associated with the two-day shutdown of the country as Matthew, then a tropical storm, was making its way through the eastern Caribbean. They appeared to think that officials acted overzealously in dealing with the threat.

“We had no choice,” said Commerce Minister Donville Inniss. “Obviously, in any threat of a natural disaster the country cannot expect to have the same level of productivity and no one ought to expect that. So I don’t see the relevance of placing a dollar value on the loss of economic activity. We had no choice.”

Jamaica, whose citizens had emptied supermarket and utility store shelves, was spared the wrath of the hurricane as it veered more toward Cuba and Haiti, but several streets were flooded. Like Barbados, officials had to gently justify the level of preparedness that the administration of Prime Minister Andrew Holness had organized.

City of Kingston Mayor Desmond McKenzie told local newspapers that authorities had no alternative but to put the country on lockdown, encourage folks to go into shelters and generally get ready for its arrival because early indications were that it had set its sights on the island of approximately 3 million.

McKenzie explained, “I know that after the dust has settled, we will get questions and some level of criticisms. This is Jamaica and we have to appreciate and accept that what we were doing was not just being done locally, but it was a system that was being monitored internationally.”

The Gleaner newspaper said that officials were similarly criticized in August when tropical storm Earl had also beckoned, with islanders accusing authorities of overreacting.

The Bahamas and Cuba meanwhile were also preparing for Matthew, even as forecasters indicate that Florida could be on its agenda by the end of the week.

Schools closed Tuesday and Bahamas Air suspended flights to islands in the south nearer Jamaica.

For Cuba, the eastern provinces of Santiago de Cuba, Las Tunas, Guantanamo where the U.S. is holding international terrorists, Holguin and Granma were on full alert as the annual storm season reaches its peak in the wake of blazing if not record-high temperatures in the Atlantic this year.