Is Barbados storm ready?

Emergency Management Director Kerry Hinds.
Photo by George Alleyne

Barbadians fondly claim ‘God is a Bajan’ because the island usually escapes hurricanes with just rain and wind brushes, and this might be a godsend because recent events continue to expose it as unprepared for a major hit.

An island-wide power cut that came while Hurricane Maria was passing some 90 miles north of the island Monday amidst some residents’ unhappiness with a signal from the Disaster Emergency Management (DEM) office that there was no need for a national shutdown and it was safe to open businesses despite a prevailing flood warning are the latest red flags on Barbados’ storm readiness.

The alerts on how prepared is Barbados to take on the full brunt of a storm were to be found in the expressions of outrage by some Barbadians that Monday was a day of work despite the deluge of rain that began the day before and continued during the call to work.

In spite of being almost one hundred miles away and only at Category One strength Hurricane Maria damaged several homes and caused the usual flooding that afflicts certain parishes in heavy rainfall, eroded at least one beach, and threw waves on some roadways including the downtown Bridgetown Wharf Road.

But while residents of sister Caribbean territories such as Dominica, Barbuda, British Virgin Islands and the United States Virgin Islands struggle with real issues of rebuilding, from scratch in some cases, Barbadians are absorbed in debate on whether it was correct for DEM to give clearance for stores, offices and other places of work to open while rain poured intermittently, as a Tropical Storm Watch was still active, and a flood warning in effect.

In stating that it was business as usual Monday, DEM Director Kerry Hinds had advised residents to be ‘vigilant and careful’ as the Barbados Meteorological Office expected more rain and high winds as a result of the passage of Hurricane Maria.

The Monday afternoon power cut added fuel to the debate with the Nation newspaper reporting on Tuesday that it rendered idle workers who had reluctantly left their homes because of the DEM clearance.

“The biggest power outage occurred around 3:30 pm [Monday] and affected the entire island. It left people, who braved pouring rains and gusty winds to get to work, sitting in darkness for three and half hours in some instances,” the Nation reported.

It is believed that a lightning strike at a main plant of the island’s sole electricity supplier, Barbados Light and Power caused the electricity cut, and technicians immediately jumped into action restoring the first areas in just over half an hour with other districts receiving a restoration of supply through about six hours.

But this national power cut that was triggered by outer band storm effects from a disturbance so far away brought into question the readiness of the island’s infrastructure.

This comes against a backdrop of complaints over the years that similar to what happens in many other Caribbean territories, homes, offices and other structures are not being built to withstand storm force winds.

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