Editorial: What about Barbuda?

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At the time of writing, the forecasted track of Hurricane Irma brings it dangerously close to our sister isle, Barbuda.  If it remains true to forecast, it will be a Category 3 or Category 4 hurricane and the eye will pass just north of Barbuda, sometime early Wednesday morning.  For Barbudans, and anyone with a genuine interest in Barbuda, this must be terrifying. 
To state the obvious, Barbuda is flat.  The ‘highlands’ are only approximately 125 feet above sea level, but most of the population lives in and around Codrington.  A Category 4 hurricane is an extremely serious hurricane.  By definition, wind speeds are 130-156 miles per hour (113 – 136 knots per hour or 209-251 kilometres per hour).  With that comes one of the most devastating aspects of a powerful storm –  storm surge.
Not often talked about, storm surges very often cause the most damage during a hurricane, especially where there is a significant population living on or near the coast.  The impact of a storm surge is also contingent upon the geographical buffers in place to reduce the effects of storm surge.  Unfortunately, in Barbuda, there are few buffers if a significant storm surge is experienced.  We are not even going to get into the whole issue of the sand mining at this point.
We can all batten down and prepare for the wind and rain, but the storm surge is a different animal.  In the recent Category 4 Hurricane Harvey, which hit Texas, the storm surge was estimated at 7 to 12 feet above the predicted astronomical tide.  According to the National Hurricane Center (nhc.noaa.gov), “Along the coast, storm surge is often the greatest threat to life and property from a hurricane. In the past, large death tolls have resulted from the rise of the ocean associated with many of the major hurricanes that have made landfall. Hurricane Katrina (2005) is a prime example of the damage and devastation that can be caused by surge. At least 1,500 persons lost their lives during Katrina and many of those deaths occurred directly, or indirectly, as a result of storm surge.”
That should give everyone, including government officials, a reason to pause and think about how we are preparing for a possible direct or slightly indirect strike from Hurricane Irma, specifically with Barbuda in mind. 
We know that the Government has capable advisors as it relates to this topic, but we are a bit concerned that we have not heard any public advisories relating to potential storm surges and, in particular, the possible impacts to Barbuda and its residents.
Now, there are some that are going to call us ‘alarmists’ and tell us that none of this is new.  They will say that Barbuda has weathered its fair share of storms and came out okay.  We are happy to concede those points, and even accept the label of ‘alarmists,’ if the word gets out and any life or property is saved.  It would be the best few hundred words spent and an easy label to pin onto our chests (which have a few more distasteful labels than ‘alarmists’).
The reason we are raising the alarm is because we have checked with our Barbuda contacts, and they have not reported any heightened anxiety about the storm beyond the normal ‘hurricane ah come – batten down.’   Maybe something is in the works and has not been released as yet. But with just 48 hours or so before the forecast predicts we all begin to feel the effects, we are urging those in authority to be very specific about the potential threats. 
And if we can add to the alarm, just so that people understand what is possible, we will refer to the layman’s description of storm surge provided by Kerry Emanuel, professor of atmospheric sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  He said, “Storm surges are interesting.  They are one of the major sources of damage caused by hurricanes. They are like tsunamis but they are not generated by earthquakes but by hurricane winds.”  In case you missed it, he said “tsunamis!”
We know that we have concentrated on Barbuda and the possible storm surge, but that is only because we see it as a glaring omission in the communication to date.  We should all be vigilant and prepared.  It is difficult to forecast Mother Nature, and, at this point, our best-case scenario is that Hurricane Irma is going to come close.   However, forecasts can change (as they are prone to do), so ‘close’ could become closer and closer could become direct. 
Preparing for the hurricane that never comes is a much better feeling than experiencing a hurricane for which you did not prepare.
We invite you to visit www.antiguaobserver.com and give us your feedback on our opinions

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