|500,000 to evacuate
Many refuse to leave
Friday, September 10, 2004
Fearing flooding from towering coastal waves, Jamaican authorities yesterday urged the evacuation of 500,000 people, or nearly a fifth of the country's population, from low-lying seaside communities as the island braced for an onslaught from Hurricane Ivan, which has already sliced a path of destruction across the southern Caribbean.
But many people appeared ready to ignore the appeals, as was apparent at Port Royal, an old town on the Palisadoes, a spit that almost encloses the Kingston Harbour. Palisadoes is also the home of Kingston's Norman Manley International Airport.
"We feel safe here and we do not want to go anywhere," one woman said late afternoon, as she, like most of the town's 2,000 residents, battened down, prepared to ride out the storm in their homes.
At 4:00 pm yesterday, about the time that the government's emergency relief agency was to start putting on buses for people who wanted to leave Port Royal, Ivan was about 312 miles southeast of Jamaica, packing maximum sustained winds of 150 mph, making it a dangerous category four hurricane, a notch lower that the category five it had been earlier in the day.
It was moving towards Jamaica at a speed of 15 miles an hour. Its hurricane force winds, 75 mph and higher, extended outward for up to 34 miles from its centre, while its tropical storm force winds reached over 140 miles.
On the track that Ivan has maintained for days, Jamaica, particularly, was expected to begin feeling its effects by late last night, with the entire island being enveloped by the storm by today.
"It is forecast to make its way across the island Friday (today) starting near midday," said the Meteorological Office.
With the authorities expecting storm surges of upwards of 10 feet and winds of ferocious velocity, especially after Ivan was categorised as a category five hurricane, officials urged people in low-lying areas to move out.
"It is taking all those factors into consideration why we are encouraging those who live in the flood-prone areas to move to safety, either by seeking accommodation with relatives or going to the shelters which have been provided to accommodate them," Prime Minister P J Patterson told reporters. "It is my belief that if persons do respond quickly it will result in a reduction in the damage that would otherwise accrue."
But Port Royal residents, their town better known historically as the pirate haunt and hang-out of the buccaneer Henry Morgan that partially sunk under the sea in an earthquake and tidal wave in 1692, remained, reluctant to leave. Even a former junior minister who lives in the town refused to go.
Movement also appeared slow out of communities of Portmore, a low-lying area just west of Kingston, where the population has grown from a few thousand 15 years ago to 260,000 today.
"We are evacuating the communities of Edgewater, West Bay, Braeton, Marine Park, Bridgeport, Sabina and Chedwin," Dr Barbara Carby, head of the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM), said at yesterday's press conference. "Not all of those evacuating necessarily means out of Portmore. We do have shelters within Portmore that can house some of them. The ones that are not housed in Portmore will come to Kingston and also Spanish Town where shelters are made available for them."
But despite many people's unwillingness to leave their own homes, it was clear yesterday that Ivan's devastating blow to Grenada, where it left at least 20 persons dead and most buildings damaged, frightened Jamaicans into action.
Thousands poured into shops and supermarkets to buy emergency supplies and long lines formed at petrol stations as people filled up tanks and bought kerosene for lamps and cooking in the event they lose electricity.
Most businesses closed early, and the island's two international airports announced that they would close from tonight. The national airline, Air Jamaica, cancelled flights in and out the island for today.
Earlier in the day hundreds of tourists crammed the Sangster airport in Montego Bay seeking to leave Jamaica ahead of the storm's arrival. Similar, but less chaotic scenes were apparent at Kingston's Norman Manley airport, with the travellers being mostly business types.
Ivan is heading to Jamaica one day shy of the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Gilbert of 1988, which left 45 people dead and $600 million in damage. Gilbert was a category three storm when it hit Jamaica.
Patterson said he continued to hope and pray that Ivan, by some miracle, would miss Jamaica, but if it did hit the aim would be a return to normality soon after, including the economically important tourist sector.
"We are doing everything to ensure that after Ivan has left us we can remain open for business in the tourism industry," he said.
The prime minister hoped there would not be looting in the event of a hit and insisted he was ready to do all to ensure law and order.
"I will not hesitate to invoke emergency powers should the situation so require and I have already got before me the precedent which was used in 1988 and I will not hesitate to resort to it should it become necessary," he said. "I have already made contact with the governor general to ensure that I can transmit the request to him without delay or difficulty."
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