A gentleman (well, maybe rather a rough man actually) named Matthew has taken over our lives. Someone commented that Matthew is an “uptown name,” so we might have expected him to be better behaved. But alas. He has been very difficult so far: slow to make up his mind, at times hesitant and even stopping altogether at one point. We have waited for him the entire weekend, and he has still not arrived. We are getting weary, and some of my Twitter friends have already eaten their “hurricane food.” I had forgotten that hurricanes could be so wearing, rather like an annoying friend who hangs around the house waiting for you to offer him/her a cup of coffee when you have urgent things to do. At this point we all want to tell Hurricane Matthew to just go away. Shoo! But we cannot. We have to just put up with him, hanging around in the background.
So yesterday there were the supermarket treks, for those who could afford it, to stock up on tinned “bully beef,” mackerel, crackers and bread. And candles, and matches, and batteries, and bleach and anything else one could possibly think of. (Bleach! How can any Jamaican household exist without bleach?) My husband spent long hours pulling down metal awnings, tying them down, putting up plyboard. The sounds of hammering and chain saws floated across the neighborhood on Saturday.
Earlier today, we had a vicious downpour, and a thunderstorm that was relatively short but intense. Almost immediately, some areas were flooded. The low-lying Portmore (built on wetlands, of course, with much of the coastal mangroves destroyed by illegal development) was soon having problems. This was after just one thunderstorm. What if Matthew rains on us for days – which is quite possible?
So today (Sunday) there was the inevitable desire for more and more information on the progress of Matthew. Many of us on social media turned into meteorological geniuses. We tossed phrases like “storm surge” and “wobble” and “outer bands” around airily. A number of Facebook posters decided that God had turned Matthew away – crying “Amen” and “Hallelujah” at the news that the eye of the storm will apparently not pass over our island. But, not so fast, oh God-fearing ones. The storm does not just consist of the eye, a round dot on the tracking map. It is actually huge – about fifty times the size of our little island. This simple fact seems to have eluded many Facebookers, who are chorusing that we have escaped the worst, because of their prayers. The Haitians and Cubans were clearly not praying properly, and indeed they may well receive the brunt of Matthew’s wrath – especially “poor Haiti,” as we often call her. There is always a reason to feel sorry for Haiti, it seems. Or not feel sorry (some of our Christians disapprove of “Voodoo” practices).
And there was the usual drama of The People Who Refuse to Move: including thirty or so fisherfolk on the Pedro Cays and most of the population of Port Royal, among others. Our extremely scarce resources (Jamaica Defence Force helicopters) might, one supposes, be forced to rescue them in dangerous conditions if they get bogged down or washed away. This is annoying – and in my view, downright selfish. However, many are afraid to leave their homes and go to the nearby shelters provided because they are afraid their houses will be broken into while they are away. What a sad state of affairs.
Was this climate change, I wonder? Hurricane Matthew seems to have broken some records. He strengthened at a staggering rate on Saturday, running up through the ranks to a Category Five (Total Destruction) before feeling he may have overstepped the mark and pulling back a little – to a “strong Four.”
Tedium, combined with uncertainty, is stressful. I could not concentrate on any writing, as I had planned to, and spent a few hours buried in a dark Netflix crime drama. Our dog watched our various unusual activities, and refused to eat her dinner. The house was dark and a little stuffy, with our windows battened down. The day dragged on, and we ate some “hurricane food” – bully beef (tinned corned beef), brown rice and salad.
But we did find a sensational website: http://www.windyty.com It is interactive (you can click on a timeline to see what the predictions are) and, depending on whether you are looking at wind, waves or rain, it is a beautiful swirl of colors. It’s also remarkably accurate and quite detailed. It’s a different experience than the prosaic National Hurricane Center advisories and storm track maps, or the Caribbean satellite map on weather.com – which used to be animated, but not any more. Windyty.com is remarkably animated. You should take a look.
The city of Kingston seemed almost sad today. Silent under the gloomy clouds, our street seemed abandoned, as if everyone had departed and it was waiting for someone new to move in. I guess that someone would be Matthew – an overdue, temporary and wholly unwelcome guest.
It is now raining steadily, at 2:00 a.m. And so, we continue to wait.
I will leave the rest of the news for another time – but I would like to “big up”…
Prime Minister Andrew Holness (and in particular his social media team). The PM communicated well via Facebook and Twitter, really outdoing himself. A meeting with all Members of Parliament (after which he gave each of them J$1 million to spend on drain cleaning and other preparation work) was aired on Facebook Live. Then we had updates of his helicopter tour of the island, including him eating patties en route. There are a few overseas reporters here, too – although considering that Matthew now seems to have more of a penchant for Haiti, they might pop over there instead. Nevertheless, Mr. Holness was seen as being in control, keeping an eye on things, keeping himself informed and keeping the Jamaican public informed. His wife Juliet, who is Member of Parliament in a constituency that is especially challenging in terms of topography, appeared on video standing on the edge of a ripped and broken road (broken several weeks ago) in Gordon Town in the hills above Kingston. It was impossible to fix it at the last minute, of course.
Some media stalwarts: Patria Kay Aarons of CVM Television’s Weather Watch, and roving reporter Dervan Malcolm of Power 106 FM (a man who is permanently on the move) also took to Facebook Live this weekend. Ms. Aarons gave us some great updates, answering questions from viewers as she went along. She regretted – she could not help those who asked, “Should I go into work tomorrow?” Oh, please. Dervan gave us a Facebook Live tour of the deserted streets of Kingston town today. It was like an exceptionally quiet Sunday, and hardly exciting viewing, but the intent was good. And no, the airport road was not blocked, at any time, but some debris was scattered across the Port Royal Road near the lighthouse and had to be cleared.