EDITORIAL: Out of an abundance of caution

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Her name is Irma, and she is a not to be trifled with. At least, that is what the folks who know about these things tell us. Many of these experts have expressed alarm at the rather rapid manner in which Irma has strengthened in short order. Indeed, in the space of six hours yesterday, Irma went from being a category 1 to a category 3 hurricane.  If she continues gaining strength, what with her slow westward sojourn of 12 mph over the warm waters of the North Atlantic, she could potentially reach the Leeward Islands as a (heaven forbid) category 4 monster storm.
Of course, in light of the grievous damage that Harvey inflicted on Houston last week, and to a lesser extent, Louisiana, the warnings from the Antigua Meteorological Office and the local media should not be dismissed as hyperbole or some cynical gambit to gain ratings. This is not fear-mongering! We ought to closely follow all the unfolding weather developments and updates and be guided accordingly.  Too often, we tend to ignore the routine warnings of the authorities, but in the hours and days ahead, all the pronouncements from the authorities will be anything but routine, and we here at Observer media urge all Antiguans to pay the more earnest heed to anything from Mr Philmore Mullin and the National Office of Disaster Preparedness, Mr Keithley Meade and Mr Dale Destin from the Meteorological Office and Mr Jeff Martin from the Red Cross. Any advisory coming from Mr Franklin Thomas and Deputy Commissioners Hughes and Rodney, should also be treated with the utmost seriousness. Especially in the aftermath of the hurricane (if it does strike us) when some
misshapen opportunists might be tempted to take advantage of the chaos and pursue less than honourable ends.
We have the benefit of the latest modern tracking technology; we have been forewarned! Let us now take all the necessary steps to be forearmed. Some of those steps include stocking up on the basic food supplies – bread, water, and canned goods. The power will probably go out, so no sense in securing milk and other perishable items. Flashlights and batteries are essential, as are first-aid supplies. Batten down the hatches, and be prepared to stay in place for the duration of the hurricane and its immediate aftermath. In other words, do not attempt to leave your home after Irma hits. If there are questions about the security of your residence please relocate to any one of the designated shelters in your area. Beware downed power lines, and do not expect internet, telephone and electrical service during and immediately following the hurricane. The sanitation department should also immediately clear the growth and detritus from many of our drains to mitigate the flooding, especially in flood-prone areas such as Bendal’s, Grays Farm, Bolans, Dredge Bay and the Point. Most importantly, check on your elderly and shut-in neighbours. We are indeed our brothers’ keepers, and the best in ourselves will, or should, manifest itself in moments such as these.
Meanwhile, we feel constrained to offer this paraphrased quote: “The Atlantic hath no fury like the wrath of a storm ignored.” For example, many of us treated the warnings about Hurricane Hugo rather flippantly. After all, prior to Hugo, Antigua had not felt the fury of a hurricane since, well . . . the evil twin hurricanes that hit us in 1950.  The first was Hurricane Baker that unleashed 120 mph winds and the second, a few days later, was Hurricane Dog packing 130 mph winds. Hurricane Dog is still considered one of the worst hurricanes to ever strike our fair island. The silver lining in that disaster (if there is ever a silver lining in a natural disaster) is that Dog blew down all the wattle-and-daub houses in Antigua, and severely damaged most of the estates. The damage to the estates was so extensive that many of the planters felt that it was not worth any investment in their repair, especially since the Antigua Trades and Labour Union was gaining strength and driving increasingly hard bargains with the planters. In fact, the late Mrs Elizabeth Schaeffler Ella Pinkas of Weatherill’s Estate once reported that when the planters met to survey the damage and discuss their options after the hurricanes, they ruefully noted that, “These black people are getting too much power!”  Suffice it to say, they couldn’t be bothered with the aggravation, so they packed up and left.  
Of course, so many persons were left homeless after Hurricane Dog that the government appropriated funds to build the small, one-bedroom stone structures in villages such as New Winthorpes, Liberta, Potters and Ottos to replace the trash houses that had been blown away. Most of these stone structures are still standing today, even though many have been upgraded and enlarged. Fortunately, as bad as Dog and Baker were, there were no reported deaths. Two persons died in Hurricane Hugo in ’89 and two in Hurricane Luis in 1995. In 1998, two persons died in Hurricane Georges.  Between Hurricane Jose and Tropical Storm Lenny in 1999, there were two fatalities. There was no loss of life in Hurricane Omar in 2008 or Hurricane Earl in 2010, but the collateral damage was extensive. Seems, the more prepared we are, the less the likelihood of human casualty. And we can limit the severity of damage to infrastructure and property.
At the time of going to the press, Irma was still churning up warm water and gaining and losing strength. This erratic behavior is indicative of a very volatile and unpredictable weather system. We urge our fellow Antiguans, indeed all of our Eastern Caribbean brothers and sisters not to become complacent. Similarly, while it is true that all the computer models show Irma tracking to the north of us, we urge continued vigilance. These systems are notoriously whimsical and capricious.  Of course, while we are hoping and praying that Irma continues to track north and blows herself out at sea, we are taking no chances. We have already put contingency plans in place and intend to stay on the air 24/7 with wall-to-wall coverage of Hurricane Irma. We owe it to our listeners, and our listeners owe it to themselves and each other . . . out of an abundance of caution!
We invite you to visit www.antiguaobserver.com and give us your feedback on our opinions.

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