Sunday, August 31, 2008

Still watching Gustav

Its 1:09 am and I am hurricane watching as i have always done when I am home in the Caribbean. I stay up all night tracking the storm and its impacts as they unfold. I recall doing the same when Katrina struck. If fact, I was vacationing with my family in Texas and they left a day before me and then I became trapped in Texas since AA was reluctant to fly to Miami. They switched me to Continental and that's how I got out and I watched Katrina from Dominica.

Now I am here, pursuing that PhD leading to research on children, Learning and Chronic Natural Disaster. Hence my love affairs with hurricane. I just love watching these storms. I hold a first degree in Geography, half of the Meteorologist back home, I taught in College. There is a fascination with these storms - their growth and development; the calm of the eyes, the surge. It is just unfortunate that man and his creations are in the way, otherwise they would be true forces of nature. Hurricanes are part of the earth global circulatory system. They redistribute, the earth moisture, air pressure and temperature, Without them some places would be too hot, others too dry or the pressure would simple build up to killer levels.

So while I pity those in its way, as a geographer, I cannot help but marvel at the systems as they trek their way. I was in high school in 1979 when Hurricane David struck Dominica and literally flattened the island, killed 49 and left about 75% of the population homeless.

I wonder about schools and the children but I still cannot understand why there are no emergency shelters. Is it the potential for flooding?

There should be more accurate figures on who stayed, where they are and what are their needs. It help to sharpen the response. We should never assume that people will respond to evacuation orders.

Schools will be disrupted again, learning will be suspended and for those who left, we are not sure if and when they will return. Will their schools be left intact? Will they be flooded? With they, their teachers and families make it through safely? All these will have their toll on these children. I am watching as all these unfold.

Following Gustav and his friends

This is Sunday, August 31, 2008 and I am following Hurricane Gustav and his friends who are taking a hazardous trip across the Caribbean and aiming to reach the United States - Hanna, Ike and Josephine in this order.

Gustav's trajectory offers an opportunity to assess the lessons learnt from Katrina and to evaluate the preparation and response to what is drumming up to be a major disaster producing event. I accept the position that it is the failure of the cultural protections that leads to disasters and that diasters are the result of interaction between these events and human vulnerabilities. Already, efforts are being made to evacuate early and the use the national guard to enforce the mandate. The federal government is on high alert. Chernoff has flown to New Orleans to assess the preparation. What ever happens the impact is already felt, the thousands how are now being displaced, separated from each other and their pets. At category 4, it is not sure how long before they come back home again. Schooling has been suspended and while children wait it out, precious school days are being lost with many children having to relive the trauma of this experience - chronic exposure to disaster producing events. New Orleans will have the resources to respond. Cuba and Haiti may not have these resources, given the kinds and levels of destruction being described as happened there as Gustav trekked its way to the Gulf Coast in the United States.

I expect New Orleans will do better, not because it needs to save face but because it has just experienced Katrina, three years ago, they know more now. Once Gustav has died down, it is necessary to make the transition for effective response. Roads will be blocked or destroyed. Telecommunications will be hampered - respond therefore is better handled locally; the organisational structure normally available to do business will not exist and so new ones without laws, money, need to be formed and so the goodwill of others, their patriotism and 'goodness of heart.'

For me it's finding the schools, locating where they are, assessing the damage or impacts and help to return to student learning as soon as possible. Preparation is crucial in reducing the impact. It is providing the following - security for important documents, locating and organizing critical functions - computer labs and libraries; identifying and securing curriculum materials, temporarily recruiting teachers and other personnel as volunteers since remuneration may not be available in the aftermath.

As this unfolds, the interest is to see how well the city and the state responds this time but this time Gustav may not behave like Katrina and today being Sunday, the roads may be clear to move north and those who do not have means of transportation are going it by train and public buses. I also hope that neighbors are taking neighbors along. Texas and neighboring states are accepting evacuees before rather than after. At least this lesson was learnt. We hope for the best and wish everyone well as we watch Gustav finally come to shore. He does not need a Visa