Sunday, August 16, 2009

Late but busy 2009 season

As if to make up for the late start, three storm are now churning in the region. Ana appears to heading for Dominica. A storm watch has been issued. My wife is at Sir Grantley International Airport, Barbados waiting for her flight home. All scheduled flight for this afternoon are still on. Flights for Monday have been cancelled.

As I write it appears that the rains have begun but they are not Ana's rains just yet. Heavier rains, flooding, landslides and mudslides for which Dominica is known is expected. The rugged mountainous terrain amplifies the orographic lifting effects and results in torrential rains. The two death from last hurricane season was the result of a landslide that buried a mother and her son. Interestingly, these two were in a shelter and went back home to collect some stuff and met with their demise.

One needs to assess one's surroundings to ascertain that there is little threat from slides and floods and swelling rives. Dominica has 365 rivers and so during storms and hurricanes every stream becomes a raging threatening weapon. Fortunately, the same mountainous terrain aids drainage. Usually, DOWASCO shuts off the water supply to reduce the effect of turbidity or sedimentation. Please ensure there is enough drinking water for three to four days. Electrical power may be out, so please ensure that you have alternative light sources - avoid open flames. Be sure you have cooking gas, and petrol in your vehicle. If you feel unsafe go to a shelter - a list of shelters are in the newspapers and have been included in the newspapers for the past few weeks. Call the weather hotline 447 5555 for a shelter near you. if necessary, leave for a shelter before the storm wind and rain begin

Stay on high alert. Never underestimate the power and propensity of a storm to inflict damage. Take very precaution.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Typhoon Morakot and local response in Taiwan

As the aftermath of the Typhoon Morakot in Taiwan emerges, I am thinking of our friend, Kent who lives there. We received an email from him last week. That was just before the storm. I reckon power may be out and given the carnage, very little else may be working communication wise. The paralyzing nature of these tropical storms is highlighted. I am not sure how well the nation-wide disaster preparation activities worked but what emerges is the impact of the local response to the approach of the disaster trigger.

Surprising to the early responders are the number of people found alive in some of these remote village swept and buried by mudslides, triggered by the storm. Local people appeared to have been well aware of the vulnerabilities and evacuated themselves ahead of the storm. Whether this was a knowledge of the local dialects or the result of experiences with similar storms in the past, the response appeared to be appropriate but came as a surprise. Empowering local people and awareness of local vulnerabilities are probably more effective in disaster response, the centralized control. The use of local authorities in Dominica to organize and respond to disasters is the result of chronic exposure to disasters and learning from experience where to focus disaster activities.

The site of hotel collapsing on the edge of torrent of water and silt is another reminder of the importance of local action on the approach of a storm. Learning that the entire hotel had been evacuated before the collapse is astounding. It would be interesting to learn how that was done, what were the sign or circumstances that indicated they needed to do that and where did the move the people to and what were their reactions to what happened to that hotel in light of their decisions to evacuate would be instructive in future.

The impact of the typhoons on the infrastructure is spectacular and shows that the combined forces of wind and water and trigger the collapse of social and cultural protection and put lives and property at risk. Kudos to those who had the presence of mind to take action and saves lives.