So we are all in the throes of panic here in the Caribbean at the moment. It’s the eve of the passage of Hurricane Irma in my corner of the world. As I write this post,a hurricane has started its warring path through the lesser Antilles and is projected to pass through the greater Antilles enroute for coastal Florida and beyond. Irma is a Category 5 storm; this means that it is at the top of the rating of the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane scale. The ratings vary from Category 1 through 5 with the lowest Category having wind gusts of 74- 95 mph and a storm surge of 4-5′ above normal. A Category 5 storm is the most dangerous on the scale. Winds will vary between 155mph and the storm surge will be 18′ higher than normal. It is a catastrophic storm with the capacity to destroy buildings and infrastructure and annihilate nature in its path.
When you live in the tropics and especially in the Caribbean, hurricane season is one which we greet with great respect. It officially begins on June 1 and ends in December 1, though there has been activity before and after these dates. Some years things are relatively quiet and all goes somewhat smoothly, with just a few tropical storms and no heavy damage or toll in lives. On the other hand, there are years when the warm ocean and sea temperatures are the perfect catalyst for fueling weather systems coming off of the African coast. This 2017 season is one of those years where the elements are all aligned for creating and fostering great storms.
In Haiti, we are susceptible to many natural disasters. How can we ever forget the 2010 Earthquake and the many hurricanes and storms which have created havoc here. Hurricane Matthew ploughed by last year in the south of Haiti. The areas of Jeremie, Les Cayes and Port Salut have not yet recovered from damages sustained there almost 1 year ago. The high mountains have often been our saving grace. They break down the strong winds and take the brunt of the attack. If a hurricane traverses Haiti’s mainland, it will most likely lose some its force, weakening it for the next place on target. If the hurricane skirts Haiti, as Irma is projected to do, it will continue on as a strong storm and could even gain strength in the open warm waters as it approaches the continental USA. We are all praying for safe passage here; especially for the North Coast of Cap Haitian, Môle St. Nicolas and Port de Paix. The country has a fragile ecosystem and a vulnerable economy. We await Irma with the trepidation of someone with a weakened immune system who has been exposed to a fatal disease… we pray for a miracle to save us.
Many days of anxious prep is being feverishly done in many countries to secure homes and property. In the hours when the storm nears, there will be moments of high tension. Most will have “battened down the hatches” and will be “hunkered down” and nervously waiting for the storm to pass, often as a family…Security in numbers.
Though high tensions and anxiety will reign at some points, human nature will kick in and we will be hungry and thirsty. There will be most likely someone desperately searching for something to eat. It is best to prepare a few things in advance in the event of losing power and light. It’s also a good idea to have a stock of non-perishable items to eat, especially for the aftermath. Stock up on food supplies, water and safety items prior to the arrival of the storm. Some useful canned goods are tuna, luncheon meats, soups, peanut butter, jelly and condensed or UHT milk. Other dry staples like soda crackers, dry cereal, granola, power bars and breads will tide you over for a few days. A fresh cooked meal will always be better, but in the event of storm damages, these will do the trick.
Having enough drinking water for 3 days is crucial when preparing for a hurricane. You will need a gallon per day per person as a guide. You should also store water for cooking, flushing toilets and for emergencies. If you have a water tank on your roof, ensure that it is filled before the storm arrives. Having a filled tank will anchor the container more firmly on the roof. An empty tank can easily become a dangerous flying projectile in high winds.
Trim low lying branches in trees in your yard, especially ones which are close to your roof or windows.
Remove loose debris like coconuts and rotting branches from trees.
Your pets should not be left outside in a hurricane. You have to bring them indoors or in a secure covered area away from the elements.
Birth certificates, passports, insurance papers and family documents and important documents should be stored in portable waterproof bags.
If you have outdoor furniture, you should remove them to an enclosed area or tether them securely so they do not become projectiles with high gusts of wind. If you have outdoor umbrellas or collapsible gazebos, you should close and remove them as well. They can easily become airborne if left outdoors.
Your potted plants should be removed to an area where they will not be exposed to the excess rainfall and wind.
If you have a bathtub, you should fill with water for household use.
There should be a designated safe room in the house. This is one that does not have an exterior window or door. Your bathroom is also a safe place in the event of strong wind gusts.
Essential prescription medications should be stocked. As a safety precaution, have a reserve quantity on hand for a few extra days.
Charge cell phone and additional battery packs to full charge in the event of power loss.
Here’s a list of a few essentials to have on hand:
Candles, matches, and lighters.
Flashlight with batteries and extra batteries
First aid kit with bandages, gauze, alcohol wipes & disinfectant
Non-prescription medications such as pain relievers, anti-diarrhea & antacids
Ice cooler or ice chest and as much ice that you can store
Baby food and diapers.
Feminine hygiene products
Bleach or chlorine tablets, for water purification
Batteries for flash lights and portable radio
Paper plates, cups and utensils.
Extra pet food.
Thinking of you all and wishing you a good weekend. For those who are in Irma’s path, I wish you and yours a safe passage through this tough time. Hopefully your preparations will be successful and that you weather the storm with no losses. My thoughts and prayers are with you all