Insurer says J'cans need to know risks posed by storms, hurricanes

Saturday, August 19, 2017

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JAMAICANS have been urged to be aware of the risks posed by storms and hurricanes as the country prepares for the peak of the hurricane season, which the Meteorological Service of Jamaica (Met Service) says has been a busy one.

We need a greater understanding about what our real risks are,” said Shelly-Ann Walker, senior manager, compliance & risk at JN General Insurance.

“High winds may take your roof, but high water can easily take your life,” Walker was quoted in a release issued by the insurer.

She said: “Massive hurricanes, such as Charlie in 1951 and Gilbert in 1988, are riveted in the public's collective memory; however, the just as devastating floods of 1979 and 1986 are not. That is because hurricane-force winds may be quite dramatic; but, it is actually storm surges in coastal areas and flooding further inland, which are the major threat to life and property.”

She noted that government proposals to be more proactive in ensuring that people do not settle in areas that are known to be extremely vulnerable to flooding should help in the long run.

“There is also a need for us to collectively, as a nation, be cognisant of how we dispose of waste as improper garbage disposal in rivers and drains results in increased flooding of roadways and homes during a storm,” Walker stated. “We all need to take personal responsibility as it relates to our safety and preparedness in the event of a storm,” she added.

She said preparedness considerations include thinking about whether to evacuate or stay at home, what emergency supplies should be purchased, and importantly, ensuring adequate insurance coverage, as most of those suffering loss in the May floods were uninsured.

Lawrence Brown, head of forecasting, National Meteorological Centre, said approximately 12 tropical systems are projected for the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea basin this year. He says there is heightened concern about major hurricanes, but the public should be reminded that less intense systems can also cause devastation.

“The absolute peak month of the season is September,” Brown said. “The months of August, September and October are when we expect most of the activity.”

The Atlantic hurricane season, which runs from June 1 to November 30, is the period of year when most tropical storm systems form in the Atlantic basin, which includes the Caribbean. In the first nine weeks of this season there were six named storms, which is double the number that are usually formed by early August.

The United States-based National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recently updated its start-of-season prediction, pointing out it could be the most active since 2010, due to the wind and air patterns in the area of the Tropical Atlantic and the Caribbean.

Brown pointed out that the likelihood that the full season could bring an increased number of storms and severe weather phenomena should be a cause of concern to Jamaicans. “We are in a climatically sensitive location and heavy rainfall is always likely to affect us.”

He pointed to a low pressure weather system, which settled over the island May 14-19, triggering rainfall, which caused an estimated half-a-billion dollars in damage to infrastructure and agriculture.

“We need to take weather seriously all year round,” Brown said. “A weather system that is not a hurricane can cause just as much damage and loss of life as a hurricane.”

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