By Orville Williams
Flooded homes, submerged cars and impassable roads were just some of the devastating effects of the heavy rainfall that lashed the island over the past 48 hours.
What started as a light drizzle in some areas early Monday afternoon, quickly escalated to a downpour within a matter of hours, lasting late into the evening.
Videos making the rounds on social media showed water rushing through the streets of St John’s and rural communities, people having to abandon their cars in waist-high water and one even showed a child almost taken under while walking with an adult.
Along with the infrastructural damage caused, the downpours, which continued on Tuesday, also impacted several private and public sector operations.
Some major retailers, fast food outlets and telecommunications providers had to keep their doors shut, while the Ministry of Education ordered all public schools closed and the Antigua Public Utilities Authority (APUA) had to shutter its locations earlier than usual.
According to the Antigua and Barbuda Meteorological Service, the rains were a result of interaction between a tropical wave and a surface trough. All areas of the country – including the sister isle –experienced some rainfall, though the intensity differed for most.
In response to the conditions, the Met Service issued a flash flood warning on Monday, for low-lying and flood-prone areas of the country. That warning was downgraded to a flash flood watch early on Tuesday, before being upgraded to a warning later in the day, due to the fluctuating conditions.
Acting Director of the Antigua and Barbuda Meteorological Service, Dale Destin explained the island-wide impact, noting that, fortunately, Barbuda was spared the heavy effects experienced on the mainland.
“The rainfall has been island-wide, not only for Antigua but for Barbuda. However, we have not seen the same kind of rainfall total for Barbuda [nor] the same kind of flooding.
“We have not seen equal amount of rainfall distribution across Antigua either. Most of the rainfall has taken place across western Antigua [and] as we go east, the totals tend to fall somewhat,” Destin said.
Over 12 inches of rain was recorded in some western areas yesterday, he added, including Five Islands and the Botanical Gardens in St John’s. Eastern areas such as the Potworks Dam, only received between three to four inches of rain.
The heavy rainfall took arguably the majority of the country by surprise and, as Destin shared, the Met Office was also taken aback by the impact.
“Whereas we were mindful and would have forecast that we were going to be seeing a very wet week, we certainly did not anticipate that amount of rainfall to have taken place. As a matter of fact, we did not think that Monday was going to be among the wettest of days for the week,” he said.
The public’s surprise also turned to scrutiny after the rains continued, with some calling for an explanation from the Met Office for the lack of adequate warning.
Destin also addressed that scrutiny, saying, “as I accept that there is merit to that criticism, I have to also acknowledge that there are limitations to what the science can detect. Detecting and forecasting extreme events like what we would have seen is a bit beyond science at the moment.
“It doesn’t matter [where in the world you are], whenever it comes to extreme events, the tools that we normally depend on don’t tend to pick them up and [Monday] is an example of that,” he said.
In further expressing the rarity of this week’s rains, Destin pointed to the impact of Hurricane Lenny back in November of 1999. That system, he said, brought the island almost two feet of rainfall over a three-day period, with figures for the entire month exceeding 20 inches.
Meanwhile, the National Office of Disaster Service (NODS) has disclosed that there have been no reports of injuries from the flooding. In a release yesterday afternoon, they noted that the impact on properties, vehicles and livestock has been moderate.
Looking ahead, Destin advised that the Met Office is predicting that Antigua and Barbuda should receive another four to eight inches of rainfall through to Friday.