Remembering the anniversaries of Hurricane David and Tropical Storm Erika as mega-storms become regular
As we noted the 39th anniversary of Hurricane David , as well as the 2nd birthday of Tropical Storm Erika,and the American state of Texas received a battering from Hurricane Harvey, we should realise that these are stark reminders that mega-storms have become commonplace here and all over the world.
But no matter how dangerous Harvey became, he cannot match David, one of the most severe storms of the century. There will never be another Hurricane David because that hurricane's name has been retired and also the Caribbean is much more prepared for hurricanes than we were in 1979.
Harvey appeared on the hurricane map during a period when the path and intensity of a storm can be predicted almost a week before the storm hits an area. Millions can be evacuated before the storm hits, as Texas has been doing before Harvey arrives on Friday, August 25, 2017.
In 1979, Dominicans had a few hours to get ready, as merciless and unstoppable, Hurricane David scourged the island with unforgettable brutality— 150 MPH winds wantonly stripping, scattering, demolishing, hurting and killing.
It has probably become a cliché to say that Dominica can learn many lessons from these two storms, Erika and David that devastated the island's economy nearly four decades ago and again just two short years ago.
Nevertheless, as we have said in earlier editorials, Dominicans continue to display an unhealthy level of complacency, catastrophe after catastrophe, from Hurricane David to Tropical Storm Erika.
Now that Erika has crippled Dominica's infrastructure (on August 27, 2015) we keep repeating ourselves- we care so little, we take things for granted, we like it so.
We offered the same advice after Hurricane David devastated Dominica 37 years ago. But Erika was not even a hurricane and yet it caused more than $1 billion in damage to the country's infrastructure including Douglas-Charles, Dominica's main airport. The country's struggling economy had been crippled for many years to come.
Ironically, Dominicans will observe the anniversary of the passage of Hurricane David two days after Erika's.
Although it can be said that the physical and psychological scares of Hurricane David have somewhat healed, we believe that Dominica has not effectively learnt the lessons that it should from the ordeal. Following Erika there can be no doubt that the island is still as vulnerable as it was on 29 August 1979. And our expert tell us so in no uncertain terms.
On that day, one year after the island attained political independence from Britain, David, a Category Five hurricane packing winds of 150 miles per hour and carrying millions of gallons of rain slammed into the island. David striped trees from mountains and smashed homes to smithereens. After pounding Dominica for more than six hours, 56 people were dead, more than 180 injured and 75 percent of the population were homeless. For many months after the hurricane, hundreds lived in tents or lodged with more fortunate friends.
Most significantly, the winds of David virtually blew away Dominica's economy; roads and bridges were destroyed and on Dominica's farms, almost every banana plant was broken and coconuts and other fruits littered the ground. Thankfully, many countries came to the aid of our distressed country. After two months, the Interim Government of Oliver Seraphine announced that it had received pledges of US$37 million mainly from the United States, Britain, Canada and Caribbean countries. Apart from the physical damage, one of the more lasting impacts of Hurricane David was the massive exodus, in the wake of the storm, of the country's human recourses especially young, educated and trained members of the work force. That impact is still being felt 39 years later.
The point we need to stress here is that given the severe pain that David caused and the generally high cost of natural disasters, one would expect government and the population generally to plan more adequately because we do not exaggerate when we say that the threat of being devastated by another major hurricane or Erika-type storm is very real.
Long before Erika struck, architect Severin McKenzie told us that he believed Dominica needed to go beyond the antiquated approach of having people in disaster relief committees as opposed to preventing disasters from happening. Severin added that if you know your house is not strong enough, before a hurricane you can strengthen it. "So be proactive and retrofit your house. We are not moving in this direction at all," he said. In other words McKenzie suggests that we are not taking measures to reduce the cost of disasters.
The experts like McKenzie have painted a picture of a country whose defining principles are yet undefined, a country which is a walking and stunning refutation of the old scout motto of being prepared.
"We still see quite a number of waterways blocked. We haven't seen any evidence of a concerted effort to clear the drains, for example," McKenzie said. "We know that some of the damage to our roads is because of blocked drains."
The experts contend, and we concur, that not enough attention is placed on risk reduction and that has to be high on the national agenda.
Based on discussions with persons who are familiar with the state of Dominica's preparedness we conclude that though Dominicans are definitely more aware of the occurrence and consequences of hurricanes and tropical storms due to the mass media and the Internet but the country is as underprepared for a major disaster as it was in 1979 or again in 2015.