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Western Jamaica was prepared for Matthew, say stakeholders

Published:Tuesday | October 11, 2016 | 12:00 AMChristopher Thomas
This boat was shipwrecked along the Hanover coastline while travelling from Black River to safe haven at Mosquito Cove, in the midst of a storm in 2010.

Stakeholders in western Jamaica are expressing satisfaction with the level of disaster preparedness in the region last week, in light of the threat Hurricane Matthew, which narrowly missed the island posed. The hurricane lashed the island's eastern parishes with heavy showers before continuing on to neighbouring Haiti and Cuba, leaving behind a trail of destruction.

Everton Fisher, chairman of the St Elizabeth Parish Council, heaped praise upon his parish's shelter managers for their role in preparing residents to face Hurricane Matthew, which had reached Category Four at the time it approached the country.

"I would want to thank the shelter managers who were active in their respective communities. There were a few concerns where food was concerned and pre-hurricane allocation, but the councillors were in a position to help if the need arose," said Fisher, who is also the mayor of parish capital Black River.

"All of the stakeholders were on board, and we worked closely with each other with whatever limited resources we had. We did some last-minute drain cleaning to ensure that flooding would not take place in some of the critical areas," he added.

Tony Hart, chairman of the Western Regional Health Authority (WRHA), said that the medical facilities under his jurisdiction were well prepared to deal with the effects of Hurricane Matthew had it affected the island.

"It was very good preparation we had, and I think the preparation was spot on, and we are very thankful that the hurricane did not come. I think it was up to par, and I think we are ready for future occurrences," said Hart, though he did not go into detail about the WRHA's specific preparation measures.

Jamaicans were warned to brace for the potentially devastating effects of Hurricane Matthew, with the Meteorological Service issuing a hurricane warning in anticipation of heavy winds and thunderstorm conditions. The hurricane warning was subsequently decreased to a tropical storm warning as the eye of Matthew shifted away from Jamaica's east coast and went in the direction of Haiti.


Future preparations


Concerning future hurricane-preparation measures, Janelle Ricketts, regional communications manager for the National Works Agency's (NWA) western region, said citizens must make special efforts to correct improper garbage-disposal practices, which often result in blocked drains, which exacerbates flooding.

"We still have an issue with the improper disposal of waste which continues to compromise our drainage system, and so going forward, we would like to encourage persons to properly containerise their waste because we are having a serious problem when you look at the debris that comes down and blocks the waterways," said Ricketts.

For Garth Wilkinson, chairman of the Trelawny Parish Council, while he lauded the efforts of the parish's stakeholders in their hurricane preparation, he cited the need for the repair of a first-response unit and relocation of the Falmouth Public Hospital from its current location near the seashore.

"We do not have a rescue unit as a first responder in our parish. We heard that some repair work has been done to that unit and we will probably get it back by tomorrow (October 7)," said Wilkinson. "The hospital is another case in point. We did some sandbags for them, and it has been there from the 1950s-so we cannot knock it-but the location is something we have to look at."

Fisher believes that NWA parish managers need to have more autonomy to address hurricane-preparation work instead of waiting for approval, which often does not come in a timely manner.

"The NWA (in St Elizabeth) was not in a position to really order any emergency work. They had to rely on their regional office and head office, which sometimes impedes the effectiveness of drain cleaning," said Fisher. "If the parish managers could have a little more autonomy in future, that would be helpful."