This is it - Jamaica braces for the worst from Hurricane Matthew, Gov't pleads for at-risk residents to relocate
As flooding from brief periods of torrential rainfall exposed the looming threat of Hurricane Matthew, Minister of Local Government and Community Development Desmond McKenzie yesterday lamented the fact that residents of low-lying and flood-prone areas have repeatedly refused to heed calls for them to evacuate.
McKenzie, who was addressing a press conference to give an update on Jamaica's readiness for the passage of Matthew, indicated that several attempts to encourage residents in Port Royal and other areas to relocate have proven futile.
"We cannot put the lives of our first responders at risk, and as such, I am pleading with residents to heed the calls to relocate. We have made buses available to transport people to the National Arena," he said.
McKenzie was speaking at the same time that commuters struggled to make their way along flooded roadways in sections of the Corporate Area after short spells of rainfall, likely to be multiplied several times over some time today into tomorrow.
According to McKenzie, the arena was made available from Saturday, but residents are yet to take up the Government's offer to relocate them.
Despite the fact that legislation for mandatory evacuation has been passed, McKenzie argued that it cannot be enforced as the attendant regulations have not been drafted.
As Hurricane Matthew crawls towards Jamaica, the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM) has indicated that it has pulled out all the stops to prepare the country for what could be the worst weather system to affect Jamaica since Hurricane Gilbert.
The disaster agency has, since news of the impending hurricane broke last week, been activating its preparation and response systems.
Following an emergency council meeting convened by Prime Minister Andrew Holness, the Hurricane Standing Orders and the National Emergency Operation Centre (NEOC) were activated.
The NEOC, housed at ODPEM's head office, is the designated administrative hub for disaster or emergency response and is considered the central point of contact for disaster response and recovery services.
The NEOC was yesterday advanced to a Level 3, the highest level of activation. Level 3 activation is the full response phase of disaster preparedness and involves the rollout of services by ODPEM, first responders and support agencies.
SEVERAL SHELTERS OPENED
The agency has said that the more than 1,000 shelters have been equipped with beds, food and emergency supplies. Security arrangements have also been made for the shelters.
Up to yesterday, Hurricane Matthew was moving in a north-westerly direction on a path that will take its centre further east of Jamaica than was originally projected.
"The system is not moving away from Jamaica. What is happening is that the forecast track has shifted to the east," director of the Meteorological Service of Jamaica, Evan Thompson, told the press briefing.
Thompson also noted that the hurricane is not expected to make landfall, but will weaken as it passes Jamaica.
The centre of the Category Four storm is now slated to pass nearest Jamaica this evening into tomorrow.
Matthew is expected to produce dangerously high water or a combination of dangerously high water and exceptionally high waves, even though winds expected may be less than hurricane force.
The forecast from the Met Service into Wednesday predicts widespread showers and thunderstorms.