Sunday, October 26, 2008

Hurricane Omar and preparedness

I was in Dominica during the week of October 13, 2008 and was preparing to return to the U.S. when I discovered that Hurricane Omar had emerged out of the southern Caribbean, making a northern trek that would land it across Puerto Rico, the route of my next day's travel. I quickly rescheduled my flight. I called my advisor who got on line and immediately noticed that the outer bands of the storm would affect the islands. I found it unbelievable that meteorological and disaster management officers looked surprised when on Wednesday evening and all of Thursday sea swells over 15 feet high pounded the coast. When it was over several coast homes were destroyed, two communities were cut-off, electricity and water were interrupted,fishermen has lost their boats, and several communities were inundated with water and debris. Coastal beaches were severely eroded. Schools were closed and businesses hurriedly shut down. To not know that a storm of any size in the almost land locked Caribbean Seas would result in huge sea swell was sheer miscalculation. Hurricane Lenny in 1999 had similar consequences. Are we learning from past experiences or did we just let down our guards? Vulnerable countries and communities are to be constantly on guard and in this case we may have let our guards down. We know too well from chronic exposure to hurricanes, their potency and their disruptive impacts on life and livelihoods. Information remains critical. It must be disseminated, if at least for awareness. this is critical for collective action during as threats unfolds and in this case, Hurricane Omar. Disaster events should never be taken for granted. They must be taken seriously.