This is a back-dated blog post. Yes, Hurricane Sandy was overwhelming. While the United States is just beginning to feel the effects, we in the Caribbean gritted our teeth and got through it all last week. But of course, the storm itself is not the thing. It’s the aftermath that really gets you. Like a bite from a rabid dog. It hurts at the time; but afterwards you have to get the shots, which is worse…
And let’s not forget this: dengue fever is still a concern, with another death reported today and a sharp increase in suspected cases (now officially at 2,198). The Ministry of Health says it has stepped up its vector control efforts, which is good news. We have yet to see or hear that droning fogging truck emitting its fumes in our neighborhood, however. We have resorted to plastic “mosquito zappers” with rechargeable batteries, made in China. Highly recommended. They look like harmless little badminton rackets in bright colors…but they bring with them a deadly charge. The air smells of the sizzling flesh of mosquitoes and any other flying insect that is stupid enough to get “in harm’s way”…
But seriously…Due to the huge rains we had last week, mosquito breeding sites have multiplied. I have been touring our yard, sweeping and cleaning up; even a leaf holding a small amount of water can breed a few mosquitoes in a day or two. And it will be up to us to keep things clean. As usual after a storm (or in fact at any time) there is a “severe shortage” of trucks to clean up, according to the Ministry of Local Government. So don’t expect the garbage truck any time soon. And let’s be careful.
We are all quite comfortable in the Kingston area, I believe; and the Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS) reports 90 per cent of power is restored in Kingston/St. Andrew. But tales of woe have been pouring in from elsewhere since last week, with hundreds still cut off in several communities in St. Thomas – the eastern side of the island, which was most badly hit. It’s clear that JPS is facing some pretty major challenges in two or three parishes. The television screens last night showed huge damage, roads still blocked by trees, debris… and fallen light poles. And the light poles (and, by extension, the lack of maintenance) have been a major topic of discussion in relation to our monopoly power company. Meanwhile, the humorous Mr. Robert Lalah observed wryly, regarding the complaining uptowners who had no power for a day or two: “It’s tough having to charge our smartphones at the office and missing the latest episode of Keeping Up With The Kardashians , but all will be back to normal soon enough.”
Meanwhile, the National Water Commission has not yet grasped the value of social media, Twitter etc, it seems. It has informed us that over 100,000 of its customers are still without water, five days after the storm. Sorry, not impressed – but I do know this is partly dependent on the restoration of power. Still, I think Jamaicans might have appreciated a rather higher level of communication on the part of the government agency.
Be that as it may, I have posted several photos from local media below; as well as the most recent reports on the situation on our beleaguered island, post-Sandy. There are the usual reports of widespread damage to agriculture (the banana crops are always the first to go, virtually flattened – but they are the first to grow back); people who have lost their homes and belongings – clothing, books and furniture, all sadly spread out in the sun to dry, zinc sheets and plywood scattered; roads and bridges torn away by swollen rivers, with curious residents on the river banks seemingly hypnotized by the churning brown waters. Oh, and five people escaped from a police lock-up in Portmore. One, who has been charged with shooting with intent, is curiously nicknamed “Pastor.”
Fortunately, however, we had only one death related to the storm: an old gentleman in Bedward Gardens, August Town was hit by a boulder. By comparison, the death toll in Haiti keeps rising, although unlike Jamaica they did not get a “direct hit.”
Now, with a mixture of jaded cynicism (we’ve been there, done that, many times), curiosity and somewhat muted sympathy we watch those living on the east coast of the United States evacuating and preparing and trying not to panic. Hurricane Sandy does seem to have grown horribly since she gave Jamaica a direct hit last Wednesday. And of course, there are many thousands of Jamaicans over that side, especially in New York City. So they are in our thoughts. No doubt, once Sandy has done her worst over there, there will be comparisons of how the mighty United States held up, compared to our very small island.
And what of the impact of natural disasters on politicians? Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller cut short her official trip to Canada last week to return to Jamaica when the warnings of Sandy’s approach began. This was generally praised as a good move. She also made an announcement about being prepared, etc. And then came a somewhat strange and curious interview with one of our leading broadcast journalists, Cliff Hughes, on Nationwide News Network (more about them, later). The Prime Minister does not often do live radio interviews – in fact, any kind of unscripted interaction between her and the media is quite unusual. Mr. Hughes handled the Prime Minister with kid gloves, enquiring several times about her health and general well-being, and throwing some soft questions her way. Then, almost imperceptibly, the conversation turned to the sensitive matter of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the worrying signs of Jamaica’s economic vulnerability. One could sense the discomfort at the other end of the phone line. The responses became a little confused – at least, I was confused. By my recollection, the Prime Minister said that she could not tell the Jamaican people exactly what was happening regarding the status of the IMF agreement; how could she, if she herself did not know what was happening? (Did I hear this right? Can’t she tell us anything at all?) She then fell back on her defensive mantra: She has ministers to do the work in their respective portfolios, and she expects them to do it well. She does not interfere with their work (but hold on, don’t they report to her, as prime minister?)
Sorry, but I don’t really understand this. Really, I don’t. Especially when the PM added that she realizes Jamaicans are “used to” Prime Ministers who talk about every issue affecting the country; but she has a different approach. She has her ministers.
So now, the Cabinet met today to consider the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy – the cost, of course, being a major factor. How will this affect the IMF negotiations (and is it entirely correct to call them negotiations, at this stage)? I believe the government has sent a letter to the IMF and is waiting to see what happens next. Anyway, the day before Sandy the Opposition Finance Spokesman Audley Shaw took on the issue in Parliament, suggesting that the possible deadline for the possible signing of an agreement with the men in Washington is a bit of a moving target. Meanwhile, the Gleaner is getting fidgety again, worried about a “lack of urgency” on the part of the Government.
More on this in the weeks to follow, one predicts. The IMF all tangled up with Sandy. What a muddle we are in, once again.
I will end with a major drumroll: for all the emergency services, both governmental and non-governmental, for their sterling work before, during and after Hurricane Sandy passed, with surprising efficiency and speed, across our island (although I was never quite sure whether it was east to west or north to south?) The police imposed curfews, resulting in no reports of looting (so far as I am aware) – and also resulting in the number of murdered Jamaicans being reduced, as you can see from the list below. The Office of Disaster Preparedness & Emergency Management (ODPEM) did a good job of keeping us informed, and prepared. Non-governmental organizations like the Jamaica Red Cross, Salvation Army and others responded effectively, despite their always limited resources. Food for the Poor and the YB Afraid Foundation of Olympic medalist Yohan Blake also brought much-needed help (food and other supplies) to residents of Portland. Some Members of Parliament (notably Damion Crawford in the much-afflicted East Rural St. Andrew) and local councillors appeared to be working hard on the ground.
Perhaps… perhaps, the stars of the show were the often much-maligned Jamaica Public Service Company. Yes, I know many of you Jamaicans may not agree (especially those who are still without power). But their engineers worked hard for hours on the broken light post down the road from us, in the pouring rain last Thursday night; and did not stop until they had restored light to our little area at around 1:30 a.m. Their hard work was much appreciated. And their public relations effort – their continuous flow of information throughout the period – was/is laudable. Ms. Kelly Tomblin, the President, appeared on Television Jamaica’s popular morning magazine program, neatly attired in jeans and leather boots, to provide an update. She has been incredibly accessible and is speaking on the radio as I write this. As for Ms. Winsome Callum, the firm’s head of communications…She is a master (mistress?) of public relations practice. Her combination of sincerity, clarity, empathy, professionalism and sheer cool is unrivaled in Jamaica. Congratulations, Ms. Callum, on receiving my Order of the Petchary Award this week. It’s my second highest award, I would say, and it comes with a hearty pat on the back. I was, actually, informed and reassured after her excellent interview with Dionne Jackson Miller on RJR a few days ago.
Now, back to Nationwide News Network, whom I also really appreciated last week – Mr. Cliff Hughes, Mr. Vernon Darby and the whole supporting crew of reporters and producers, who did a fine job throughout the storm. They kept us continuously informed, fielding phone calls from anxious and stressed Jamaicans, when other radio stations were playing “soothing” music. Thanks Nationwide!
Meanwhile, over in the U.S., Mr. Wolf Blitzer of CNN has put on his World War II voice, while intrepid reporters stand ankle-deep on flooded roads, and hang on to their hats in the windiest spot they can find. Somehow, coverage of a natural disaster (or potential disaster) becomes dull and repetitive after a while… Nevertheless, fingers crossed and take care to all our friends on the east coast.
Here’s to calmer waters.
Jamaicans killed by the police:
Dwayne Anthony Reid, 31, Mandeville, Manchester
Unidentified man, Guy’s Hill, St. Catherine
…and by others:
Sarvan Morrison, 24, Old Braeton, St. Catherine
Donna Collen, 53, Tawes Pen, St. Catherine
Rayon Anthony Champagnie, Airy Castle, St. Thomas
Unidentified man, Ivy Green Crescent, Kingston
Unidentified man, Montpelier, St. James
Courtney Edwards, 35, Coronation Market, Kingston
Christopher Lawrence, 37, Kitson Town, St. Catherine
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Restoration-slowest-in-Eastern-parishes–JPS_12862589 (Restoration slowest in eastern parishes – JPS)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121029/lead/lead1.html (Road to recovery: Jamaica Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121029/news/news1.html (11,000 farmers affected by Sandy)
https://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/10/24/sandy-between-our-toes/ (Sandy Between Our Toes: petchary.wordpress.com)
Sunday Scribble: October 21, 2012 (petchary.wordpress.com)
A Pause for Refreshment…and Art to Soothe the Soul (petchary.wordpress.com)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121025/news/news2.html (IMF in limbo: Jamaica Gleaner)
Soggy Jamaica cleaning up after Hurricane Sandy (miamiherald.com)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/editorial/Now-for-the-post-Sandy-recovery_12836191 (Now for the post-Sandy recovery: Jamaica Observer editorial)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121029/cleisure/cleisure4.html (Blackout from Sandy most vexing/Robert Lalah: Jamaica Gleaner)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121028/cleisure/cleisure1.html (Where is the Government? Missing the point of the critics: Jamaica Gleaner editorial)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Sister-P-s-Canadian-love-in_12845822 (Sister P’s Canadian love-in/Keeble McFarlane: Jamaica Observer)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Has-Sandy-complicated-Government-s-path-to-new-IMF-deal-_12854867 (Has Sandy complicated Government’s path to a new IMF deal?/Claude Robinson)