Better safe than sorry
Arthur Hall, Senior Staff Reporter
State agencies yesterday remained on full alert, shutting down some schools and encouraging the early closure of non-essential services even as it appeared that Jamaica would be spared the worst of Tomas.
But that level of preparedness is not something Prime Minister Bruce Golding is going to apologise for, even if the impact of Tropical Storm Tomas is less than feared.
For Golding, the loss of even one life would be regretted and he has applauded the disaster response agencies and the utility companies for the level of readiness achieved while Tomas strolled towards the island.
Golding had set the ball rolling on Monday before he left for Barbados to attend the funeral of that country's late prime minister, David Thompson.
That left the minister with responsibility for local government, Robert Montague; Health Minister Rudyard Spencer; Daryl Vaz, the minister with responsibility for information; and the heads of the state agencies to lead the preparation exercise.
On his return to the island yesterday, Golding immediately resumed control and found the state agencies as ready as they could be for a weather system that had initially threatened a direct hit on Jamaica as a dangerous Category-Three hurricane.
Even though Tomas was slated to pass the island as a tropical storm and while some veranda critics questioned the need to close some schools and shut down commercial activity yesterday, the disaster agencies were taking no chances and Golding was in full agreement.
"Even though the threat level to Jamaica is much less than we had previously feared, we cannot afford to let down our guard," Golding told journalists during a late-evening press briefing at Jamaica House yesterday.
"The heavy rains resulting from Tropical Storm Nicole over the last few weeks have left the earth heavily saturated, the underground water table at a high level and some communities still under several feet of water. This means that with more heavy rains to come, flooding in many areas is almost inevitable," Golding added.
He noted that relief supplies had been pre-positioned in the areas most likely to be affected to allow for speedy delivery if it becomes necessary.
Golding also gave high marks to the Portland and St Thomas parish councils and their leadership for the level of preparedness in two of the parishes most likely to be hard hit by Tomas.
"I wish to commend the staff of the Office of Disaster Prepare-dness and Emergency Manage-ment, Ministry of Health, the emergency services - fire services, police, Jamaica Defence Force - the National Solid Waste Management Authority, local authorities, essential services providers and the many voluntary agencies for their proactiveness," said Golding.
According to the prime minister: "The level of coordination that has taken place and the high level of preparedness that has been achieved, the various teams have done a good job so far and all Jamaica can be proud of them."