Timeframe of a Hurricane
by Major Ward Matthews
Hurricanes are unlike most major disasters because people know they are on the way – though there is no telling how much damage a storm will cause. Major Ward Matthews, The Salvation Army’s Secretary for Business Administration in the Caribbean Territory, shares with All the World some of the realities of life on Jamaica as the island was hit by Hurricane Dean
The calm before the storm –
|In exposed regions of Jamaica Hurricane Dean caused substantial damage |
|A severely-damaged house in Kingston|
|A Salvation Army team prepares hot meals for distribution|
|A badly-damaged house in downtown Kingston|
|Preparing goods for distribution|
|A Salvation Army officer looks at the destruction in Jones Town|
|Captain Jona Augusto from Kingston Central Corps gets to work repairing a roof|
|Captain Jonathan Kellman with police officers who helped guard distribution points|
|Territorial President of Women’s Ministries Commissioner Judith Houghton (second from right) joins officer-candidates from Haiti as they distribute aid|
one day before the hurricane hits
WE’VE been watching the development of Hurricane Dean for a few days. It’s grown into a Category 4 storm and could be a Category 5 – the maximum – with winds of more than 155 miles per hour. And it’s pointed right at Jamaica, my home for the past two years. The last storm to take a good swipe at Jamaica was Hurricane Ivan in 2004 – a glancing blow by a weaker storm that destroyed or severely damaged around 20 Salvation Army buildings. Before that, everyone talks about Hurricane Gilbert – a Category 3 storm that hit Jamaica directly in 1988, and from which it took almost a decade to recover.
It doesn’t help that my wife and I are in the USA on vacation – which is why I’m sitting in Miami International Airport hoping to get one of the last flights into Jamaica. I have plenty of company – Jamaicans who are on vacation throughout the country are trying to get home in order to protect their property.
The day of the storm
I MADE it home yesterday and immediately set about doing what my neighbours are doing – securing the house. I’ve filled all the water jugs and checked the roof. The rain is now falling. The radio says the storm is expected to be at its strongest by 4pm. I try to get the car filled with gas but it won’t start. Wouldn’t you know it – a dead battery! Our IT Director, Rhodney Bernabe, comes by and gives the car a boost. We drive to the only gas station I think might be open. They have two batteries left for sale and, yes, one fits my 2002 Toyota Corolla. God is good!
By noon the wind picks up. I travel to the seashore near the airport. The waves are large, but not too bad. We had been warned that the Jamaica Public Service, our utility company, would shut down the power grid by 10am. It stayed on longer but has now been shut down. The defence force and the police are making their presence known. I am stopped several times – but the Salvation Army shield on my car gets me through. The Army is well respected in Jamaica. If I’m in an Army car, the military figures I must know what I’m doing.
By 2pm I’m back at the house to ride the hurricane out. By 5pm, the storm is at its strongest. I’ve had to tie additional rope on the window awnings. The tree in the back yard loses several branches but none hit the house. I see a tree fall near the gulley across the road. There is no howling, and the radio reports that the storm has taken a more southerly track. We may be spared a direct hit.
The rain continues all night.
The morning after
IT’S morning, and the house is hot. Who knows how long the power will be out? With no electricity, the water is off around the island. A look outside tells me we did not get the worst of the storm. Still, I know from the tin roofing sheets scattered about that some people will have lost their roofs. And people will be getting hungry. It’s clean-up time but no chainsaws can be heard. The sound – besides roosters and barking dogs – is the steady chop, chop, chop of machetes hacking away at fallen trees.
We receive word that a large branch from a breadfruit tree has crashed through the roof of The Nest, a Salvation Army children’s home in Kingston. The branch came through the roof in the middle of the storm in the teenage girls dorm. While we know the girls were afraid, we cannot help but smile at what must have been the loudest noise made during the hurricane – the sound of 12 teenage girls shrieking! The staff evacuated them all safely and soon a USAID tarpaulin would cover the hole in the roof.
The Salvation Army will be feeding individuals in shelters. We work with the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM). Our main partner agencies are the Red Cross, the Seventh Day Adventists disaster arm, and Catholic Relief Services.
Marsha Levy, from our territorial headquarters finance office, heads up the preparation of hot meals for distribution. Major Darrell Wilkinson is in charge of feeding operations.
Territorial and divisional headquarters staff have briefing meetings to decide how to use our limited resources. We’ll be feeding at the shelters for the next two or three days. Then Major Darrell and Marsha’s team will begin to put together food parcels to take home from the shelters and for our corps to distribute. The corps from the Kingston area send volunteers in droves in the form of soldiers to put together the food parcels. It’s hot and sticky but spirits are high – laughter is everywhere.
Those serving the hot meals are escorted to the hardest-hit sections by police armed with automatic weapons. When food is in short supply, things can get tense. Fortunately, everywhere the Army goes spirits are good – and everyone is grateful that the Lord spared our little nation a direct hit.
Three days later ...
THE Army has stopped preparing hot meals. Food parcels and bulk supplies will go out for the next week. One difficult moment comes as people from the various Salvation Army centres arrive to pick up food for distribution. It’s the build-up to an election in Jamaica, a tense time anyway. A local politician arrives with a truck to take away some supplies to give to one party’s local constituency. Very often, candidates are elected by virtue of their ability to provide for the electorate. It’s hard for me to understand how a vote can be bought with a little rice, but it happens. Our headquarters staff has taken the stand that food will only be distributed by our own units.
The tension of politics will last for a couple of days. The politician goes away angry and disappointed.
I head home. The house is still hot and I’m already tired of having no water for a shower. But with the sun going down at about 6pm and no generator for my home I am in bed and asleep by 7pm.
RECOVERY begins. It is estimated that in the southern part of the island as many as 15-20 per cent of the homes have some roof damage. Most families could help themselves, even re-roof their homes, if they only had the supplies. Also, if roofs are gone, then clothing and bedding have been ruined. There will be great demand.
Help comes in the form of a US$50,000 grant from International Headquarters, a US$35,000 grant from USAID and another US$50,000 worth of tarps, blankets, and hygiene kits from USAID. Working with our partners, we divide the island into sections so we won’t try to assist in the same areas.
We have word that The Salvation Army in Mississippi, USA, will be sending roofing materials and other supplies. It looks like we will be busy for a while.
We buy 625 mattresses but they are gone quickly. Colleen is a recipient of food for herself and three small children, and also receives two mattresses and tarpaulins. When her items are delivered she tells the team members: ‘I don’t know what I was going to do. But the Army always comes through. Thank God for them.’
I think of all the supplies she could have in a more affluent country. But she’s not worried. Her kids will be dry and they will eat. One day soon the power will come back on. The schools will re-open. The elections will happen. Life may return to normality in about a month.
But for today, knowing the kids are safe, dry and fed is enough.