Magazine article Washington Report on the Hemisphere

Flooding Disrupts Life for Jamaicans

Magazine article Washington Report on the Hemisphere

Flooding Disrupts Life for Jamaicans

Article excerpt

On Tuesday, May 16, Jamaicans living in 11 of the island's 14 parishes woke to overturned cars and trucks. Beginning on May 15, in the timespan of 72 hours, a month's worth of rain fell as streets turned into rivers. This devastating flooding occurred only weeks before the Atlantic hurricane season was to begin on June 1st.

As of yet, there have been no casualties. However, there was an overwhelming loss of possessions, and in many areas, entire roads and bridges were destroyed to due to rising water levels. Many rivers were overflowing, worsening flooding conditions. In St. Andrew, there were two landslides. In Clarendon, the parish most affected by the flooding, waters rose to 17 feet. Hospitals across the island were damaged by major and minor leaks and some serious flooding. Many individuals, especially hospital staff, could not get to work. On May 17, hospitals were operating at 80 to 100 percent capacity, but only 50 to 75 percent of their staff were in attendance. Outpatient clinics were disrupted or suspended, and hospitals were discharging patients in order to make room for more to move in. Farmers lost crops and shopkeepers lost stock, creating even more disarray.

Numerous government agencies responded to the raging floods. Jamaica Public Service (JPS) noted that the energy delivery system had been damaged. National Water Commissions, the national water utility company, found its systems were also affected. As such, in some regions of the country, there was no electricity and no access to clean water for several days. The National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA) suspended services in four parishes. The National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) advised citizens to avoid stagnant water, which, apart from the health risks, are known crocodile habitats during heavy periods of rainfall. The Ministry of Health alerted the public of the risk of leptospirosis and gastroenteritis outbreaks from swimming or wading in stagnant flood water that may have been contaminated by animal waste products. The Jamaica Agricultural Sector warned that these rains were likely to impact agricultural growth due to road conditions impacting transport, and loss of growth and crops due to overwatering. The Jamaica Defense Force (JDF), the combined Army, Air Wing, and Coast Guard, as well as many parish Fire Brigades were called to rescue marooned citizens. Meteorologists project that the pressure system bringing these rains would continue to negatively affect the country until the weekend (May 19) at the very least - although the worst had passed by Tuesday evening (May 16). As such, the government issued flash flood warnings in 10 parishes and flash flood watches in the other four.

This early on, it is difficult to say what the long term fiscal effects of this flooding will be. However, six parishes were allocated $175 million ($1.35 million USD) in emergency funds to restore access to areas damaged by floods. Transportation is being arranged for hospital staff to return to work if possible. Countrywide, schools, which were administering secondary exams, reopened on Wednesday morning, May 17. Prime Minister Andrew Holness cut short his visit to the Dominican Republic to tour the affected areas. The Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM) has opened the National Emergency Operation Centre at Level Two and has begun to assign shelters in preparation for more evacuations. Shelters are already being opened in areas with high amounts of flooding; there are already 11 shelters in Clarendon and St. Catherine. All national emergency systems have been activated, evidencing the severity of the flooding.

This tragic relapse of flooding begs so many questions. …

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