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Hurricane Charley's heavy blow
St Elizabeth bears brunt of storm's fury
BALFORD HENRY & STEVEN JACKSON
Friday, August 13, 2004

ONE man drowned during an ill-fated rescue effort and millions of dollars worth of damage was done to property and agriculture, mostly in the south central parishes of St Elizabeth and Manchester, from the effects of Hurricane Charley that side-swiped southern Jamaica on Wednesday.
At least 120 persons were in shelters yesterday because their homes were either flooded or destroyed.

Last night Charley was heading towards Cuba's western provinces and on a path that could take it across the Florida panhandle and, if it is sustained, along the US east coast.

While the authorities were relieved that the hurricane spared Jamaica a more direct and harder blow, officials yesterday began to count the cost of the storm whose meandering lessened its impact on heavily-populated Kingston but made it difficult for disaster preparedness and relief officials to concentrate their efforts.

"The next step is seeing what damage was done, and to see what could have been done better," said Dr Barbara Carby, the head of the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM). "There were some difficulties in communication and managing the deluge of calls from the public," she said.

The transport and works minister, Robert Pickersgill, will today brief reporters on the damage to roads and other infrastructure.

Ironically, it was St Elizabeth, considered Jamaica's agricultural bread-basket, and until Tuesday in the grip of a drought, that bore the brunt of Charley, whose centre, at its closest point to the island, at 10:00 pm Wednesday night, was 80 kilometres or 50 miles south of Negril point.

The storm's hurricane force, that is, at 75 miles or 120 kilometres an hour or higher, extended 28 miles or 45 kilometres from its centre. But its tropical force wind extended for as far as about 185 kilometres or more than 115 miles.

Meteorologists say that Charley's winds hit St Elizabeth at 110 kiometres or nearly 69 miles an hour. Its clouds dumped thousands of tonnes of rain on the parish and south Manchester.

"All fury was unleashed," Water and Housing Minister Donald Buchanan told the Observer during a tour of his South West St Elizabeth constituency yesterday. "The damage is quite severe and extensive."

One section of the Treasure Beach/Round Hill main road was split in two for at least half-a-mile, Buchanan said.

J C Hutchinson, the MP for North West St Elizabeth and the shadow agriculture minister, agreed that the entire south-east region of the parish, notably Hounslow, Big Woods and Treasure Beach, had been devastated by the floods. He said that he and JLP deputy leader for the region, Horace Chang, would be touring the parish today.

Wednesday night vast swathes of the parish fell under several feet of water, causing many people to evacuate their homes and leading to the death of Brian Barrett, 32, a farmer in the Big Woods/Horse Negro Woods area in the south of the parish.

Barrett tried to rescue one of three families who had found refuge atop the roofs of their homes, but apparently got trapped in fencing wire before he was swept away in water gushing down from the nearby hills.

The families remained marooned for six hours, from 10:00 pm Wednesday night to 4:00 am yesterday, before they were rescued by a boat provided by the Black River Safari Boat Tours Limited.

Electricity and water supplies were disrupted in several southern parishes and some remained without power last night.

The Jamaica Public Service Company, the light and power company, activated its Emergency Operation Centres and sent out emergency crews to work around-the-clock to restore power.

The National Water Commission (NWC), in a statement yesterday, said that several of its water supply systems, mostly in St Elizabeth, had been adversely affected by various problems, including flooded facilities, blocked intake structures, electrical outages and high turbidity. Guys Hill, Spanish Town, Hope and Portmore in St Catherine; several districts in St Thomas; and Harbour View in the Corporate Area were also among the affected districts.

In St Elizabeth, Clarendon, south Manchester and in the banana-growing areas of St Thomas, farmers reported having heavy hits, with flooded fields, drowned livestock and knocked over trees. But officials said that it could have been far worse.

"We can breathe a sigh of relief, because the early indications are that the damage is much less than what we had anticipated," Jamaica Agriculture Society (JAS) president, Senator Norman Grant, said last night. "But we want a full report and assessment of the damage and the cost of reviving these areas."


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