What happens if a category 3 hurricane strikes?


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Category: Reflections 25 Feb 10

Disaster in T&T Pt 3

Trinidad and Tobago has been hit by hurricanes, in 1933 and 1962, and smaller tropical storms in the 1990s. We know we are not immune from them, but we have not seen the devastation that has been the aftermath of hurricanes for more than 60 years.

Every year we see the devastating impact of hurricanes in the Caribbean basin, from Florida to Grenada. In 2004, Hurricane Ivan slammed into Grenada. In 2005, Hurricane Dennis in Jamaica. That same year Katrina hit Florida, Bahamas, and became the tragedy that was New Orleans. In 2007, Noel hit Haiti, claiming almost 200 lives. Trinidadians and Tobagonians have become blasé. “God is a Trinidadian” is the half joking phrase that has been used to justify our luck. Others erroneously believe we are “outside” the hurricane belt. But with global warming, climatologists are predicting the warm seas of the Atlantic Ocean, which spawns the hurricanes, are going to get warmer. Senior meteorologist, Marlon Noel, assistant director of Trinidad and Tobago’s Meteorological Service, confirms that we are in the hurricane belt, “the minimum latitude considered part of the hurricane belt is five degrees north, and Trinidad and Tobago we are at ten degrees north” adding that “it is very possible for Trinidad and Tobago to be slammed by a hurricane of Category three, four and even five.” A closer look at the effect of Hurricane Ivan, a Category 3 hurricane, which hit Grenada, only 90 miles away, tells us what could happen to us should we be hit. The storm approached Grenada at about 10 am on Tuesday, September 7, 2004, with rain, rough seas and increasing winds. By 11 am, wooden shacks around the island had collapsed.

By 2 pm, the winds had increased to Category 1 speeds. Trees were uprooted, falling and blocking roads, telephone posts snapped, airborne debris had begun to seriously damage windows. Many smaller or older houses whose roofs were not properly tied down had already lost their roofs. By 4.30 pm, the wind speed in Grenada’s capital, St George’s, had increased to Category 3 speeds of 200km/h (125mph) winds. As broken windows allowed the wind access into buildings, even newer concrete block homes lost their roofs and suffering damage to their walls as the roofs pulled off. The storm destroyed the city’s emergency operations centre, the main prison, many schools, and damaged the main hospital and caused damage to 80 per cent of the houses. While there was no significant flooding or tornadoes, Grenada’s agricultural base was severely damaged. Thirty-nine people were killed and extensive looting was reported in the aftermath of the storm. The cost to Grenada, an island with eight per cent of our population, was approximately seven billion TT dollars. Looking at the effects of a hurricane of similar magnitude on Trinidad and Tobago, according to Richard Clarke, lecturer, Civil Engineering Dept UWI, “if we get a significant hurricane, let’s say a Category 3, about two thirds of the roofs will blow off,” and the attendant losses in terms of furniture and fixtures.

This implies that there may be significantly higher losses in areas where the strong winds are funnelled down the valleys at the base of the Northern Range, including Diego Martin, Maraval, Cascade and Caura. Other areas at risk of high winds are on the slopes of Laventille and Morvant in the West, Tunapuna in the East, and San Fernando in the South. Elsewhere, the degree of damage would be higher in the older or poorer neighbourhoods, whose houses would not be designed to meet the forces generated by the hurricane. As Clarke says, “unfortunately in disasters of this nature the poor suffer the most.” Noel warns there will be “intense flash flooding, and overflowing of rivers.”

Based on our previous experience with storms in this country, we know the high probability of the following:

• Torrential rain accompanying the hurricane would cause major flash flooding along the East-West Corridor as water pours off the denuded slopes along the southern side of the Northern Range.

• The combination of flash floods and waterlogged slopes would increase the risk of landslides for those who have been building on sloping grounds.

Landslides would also cut off access to much of Tobago and to Trinidad’s north coast. Trinidad and Tobago’s drains and rivers cannot cope with the runoff of regular rainy season cloud bursts. Major flooding will occur in central and south Trinidad, destroying most of Trinidad’s agricultural produce. There would be flood damage to minor and major roads (including the Churchill-Roosevelt, the Uriah Butler and the Solomon Hochoy highways) and bridges. Along the Northern (Toco/Matlot/Blan-chieusse/Maracas) and Eastern (Mayaro/ Manzanilla) coasts, storm surges (Ivan’s storm surges were as much as 4m high) and high winds would severely damage roads and houses, a major problem to villages which would be already cut off due to landslides to which we are already prone in the rainy season. Based on the experience of hurricanes throughout the Caribbean—from Greneda to the Bahamas—we know that a combination of storm surges and high winds would severely damage houses “down the islands” and destroy many of our yachts in Chaguaramas. Learning from Grenada, we know there will be no pipe-borne water supply for weeks and the electricity supply, due to loss of many electricity poles, may take several months to return to normal. In addition to lives lost and major disruption to our lives, the costs of such a disaster would be, if we go by Grenada’s experience, in the region of 70 billion TT dollars.


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur