Caribbean braces for first major storm action in 2019

BERT WILKINSON | 8/29/2019, 4:02 p.m.
Countries in the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States sub grouping of the Caribbean Community this week braced for the first ...
Hurricane Dorian NOAA/NWS photo

Countries in the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States sub grouping of the Caribbean Community this week braced for the first major storm of the 2019 hurricane season as Tropical Storm Dorian set its sights on a region still recovering from hurricanes Irma and Maria. Back in 2017, those hurricanes wreaked havoc from Dominica in the south to Cuba in the north.

Major storm warnings were put out in the main by Barbados, the most easterly of the regional island chain. Forecasters warned as the workweek began that Dorian could have made landfall on that island nation before setting its sights on nearby Eastern Caribbean islands; and that it is strengthening and picking up steam from extremely warm waters in the Caribbean Sea.

Major air carriers like Trinidad-based Caribbean Airlines and Antigua-based island hopper LIAT canceled some scheduled flights until later in the week as the storm approached Barbados. Western airlines servicing the region were also expected to do likewise in areas in the storm’s path.

Prime Minister Mia Mottley called an emergency meeting for Sunday afternoon to appeal to locals and tourists to take every precaution, noting the unpredictability of storms. Back in September 2004, she said, Hurricane Ivan was bearing down on Barbados, only to strengthen and change direction to Grenada “where it caused utter devastation.”

Forecasters say that Dorian could develop into a full blown storm by Tuesday as it heads north to other East Caribbean islands. Rain was expected to pound a number of islands from Trinidad in the very south to as far as Antigua in the north. Antigua’s sister island, Barbuda was flattened by Hurricane Irma in September 2017, while Dominica was devastated by Maria. The two were among the most powerful storms every recorded in the Atlantic and the level of destruction they caused have forced a major rethink of rules regarding construction of both private homes and national facilities.

Mottley said Dorian was “the greatest threat to Barbados since Hurricane Ivan in 2004. We are asking people to take care and to ensure they do everything necessary as our utmost priority is to save lives and to minimize injuries. After that, we are then looking at minimizing damage to property. We will only be successful if we do it together. This is not a government exercise,” she said.

The PM reminded Bajans about complicity given the fact that the island has dodged so many storms in the past as she harked back to 1955 when Hurricane Janet passing to the south caused severe discomfort to thousands.

“We now live in a different world, one we did not create where sea levels are rising, where sargassum seaweed has taken over our shorelines and there are forest fires raging in the Amazon. This is not a normal world and therefore we have to be prepared for a new reality.”

Meanwhile, the Barbados-based Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency said it was on standby to bring relief to Barbados or any affected nation as the 2019 hurricane season reaches its peak. With July being the hottest month on record in the Atlantic, officials were bracing for the toughest storm period after mid-September but Dorian has come calling a bit earlier as PM Mottley pointed out.