Saturday, August 18, 2007

Jamaica Prepares For Dean

From the Jamaica Observer: Dean on course

THE island's emergency response agencies were yesterday put on full alert as the country braced for what is likely to be a direct hit from Hurricane Dean.

Dean, which yesterday morning pounded the Eastern Caribbean islands of Martinique, Dominica and St Lucia, last night strengthened to a category four hurricane and was on a path that would take it over Jamaica by early tomorrow.

At 8:00 last night, Dean, packing winds of 135 miles per hour, (mph) was approximately 800 miles east-southeast of Kingston, the Jamaican capital. The hurricane was moving towards the west at a slow 19 mph, and was forecast to continue on that course today, with a decrease in forward speed. However, the National Hurricane Center in Miami said the weather system was likely to strengthen as it moved closer to Jamaica.

In preparation for Dean, Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, following a three-hour meeting with the National Disaster Committee yesterday, said police officers, firefighters and prison warders who were on leave were asked to report for duty, in an effort to reinforce the island's security and rescue operations in preparation for the impending natural disaster.

"I call on everyone to begin to put in place the necessary safety precautions as we prepare for Hurricane Dean," she said at a press briefing at Jamaica House after meeting with the committee.

She also called on shelter managers across the island to be on alert and to make themselves available to operate the emergency care centres.

Simpson Miller said the island's emergency response agencies, including the National Works Agency, Jamaica Fire Brigade, Jamaica Defence Force and the Jamaica Constabulary Force, were prepared to deal with all eventualities occasioned by Hurricane Dean.

"All the government agencies are prepared and all (of them) have indicated that they are more prepared than they were last year," the prime minister told reporters.

At the same time, the director general of the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM), Ronald Jackson, told journalists that the agency had put all the necessary arrangements in place to deal with the hurricane. According to Jackson, all parish disaster committees had been activated and community assistance groups and distress registration centres were functional.

Jackson said, too, that the ODPEM's overseas partners had been alerted and were ready to help the island in the aftermath of Hurricane Dean.

"No country alone will be able to handle a category four or five hurricane (so) we have put in place external mechanisms," he said, adding that if Dean were below category three, the agency "might very well be able to deal with it" on its own.

Jackson said the agency would be doing everything possible to ensure that residents in flood-prone areas leave their homes and seek refuge in the assigned shelters.

The Jamaica Urban Transit Corporation (JUTC) has dedicated 50 buses to this effort.

With storms this size you sometimes don't know exactly what you are going to get. Dean has had a relatively small area of hurricane force winds to this point so it wouldn't take a huge jog to the north or south to spare Jamaica the worst. However, a direct hit seems likeliest right now.

Good luck to all in Jamaica.

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