Features — 04 June 2013 — by Adele Ramos
Take hurricane season preparations seriously!

NEMO Minister warns, “…when we say it is time to move, get moving. We will not go back two or three times to assist you if you say, ‘Cho man, me noh gwine no way.’ We will not return!”

Hurricane safety rules:

1. Stay tuned to radio and television stations for regular bulletins.

2. Rely only on official bulletins; do not check these over the telephone.

3. As long as your house is inland and well built-with strong foundations and a good roof, stay at home.

4. Use storm shutters or board windows securely; protect outward door.

5. Stock up on food which has a long shelf life.

6. Check that oil and butane stoves are in working order; replenish stock of kerosene, charcoal and butane.

7. Sterilize baths; all containers and cooking utensils to store water. If in doubt, drink boiled or
treated water only.

8. Keep flashlights, candles and storm lanterns handy along with batteries and matches.

9. Store all garden implements and furniture inside if possible.

10. Lighten foliage of fruit trees near buildings. If very strong winds are likely, remove all coconuts.

11. If you are evacuating, leave early so that you are not stranded by flooded roads, fallen trees, wires and traffic jams and make sure you have enough fuel in your vehicle and follow routes and highways.

12. If there is a lull after the ‘eye’ of the storm has passed, stay in a safe place, except to make emergency repairs. The wind may return suddenly with even greater strength.

13. Since 90 percent of hurricane casualties occur from drowning, you must evacuate islands and beaches and other vulnerable locations as early as possible.

14. Those seeking shelter should shut off water, gas and electricity before leaving home.

“Reducing the threats from Climate Change, Disaster Preparedness begins with YOU!” That’s the theme for this year’s hurricane season, which begins Saturday, June 1, 2013 – and that was also the resounding message that came from Minister of Labour, Local Government, Rural Development and National Emergency Management Godwin Hulse at Thursday’s press briefing to mark the opening of the 2013 Hurricane Season, which spans June to November.

“Too many times, there is the misconception that… there is a hurricane coming,‘Weh unu di do?’ And I want the public… to understand, it is what you will do for yourself, because it is your responsibility to preserve as best as possible your own life, and to help to prevent accidents to yourself, and to look after your property. The state is prepared to assist and will do everything possible to help – is the operative word. That means that when we say it is time to move, get moving. We will not go back two or three times to assist you if you say, ‘Cho man, me noh gwine no way.’ We will not return!” he stated.

“And my predecessor who carries my same name said, ‘I said that last year and that is rough’. It is not rough; it is factual, because we cannot put the lives of our operators in danger when you are resistant to being assisted. Let us be very clear,” Minister Hulse added.

National Emergency Coordinator Noreen Fairweather gave a reminder of the four main storm phases: “Red One” – there is the threat of a storm within 72 hours; “Phase Two” – storm conditions are expected to impact within 35 to 48 hours; “Phase Three” – the storm is likely to make landfall within the day; and “The Green Phase” – the storm has passed over our country and is no longer a threat.

Chief Meteorological Officer Dennis Gonguez noted that based on data obtained between 1980 and 2010, the average number of named storms is twelve. However, this year, as many as 20 systems are predicted by the United States Weather Service and as low as 14 by the met office in the United Kingdom.

Gonguez said that most of the forecasts indicate that approximately 9 systems will develop with winds of 74 miles per hour or higher, which is just about average for the same 1980 -2010 period. Meanwhile, 6 intense systems (categories 3-5 or 111 mph or higher) are forecast for the season.

The 21 names on this year’s storm list are Andrea, Barry, Chantal, Dorian, Erin, Fernand, Gabrielle, Humberto, Ingrid, Jerry, Karen, Lorenzo, Melissa, Nestor, Olga, Pablo, Rebekah, Sebastien, Tanya, Van, and Wendy.

The Chief Met Officer explained that presently there are no inhibiting factors to suppress cyclone activity. Typically, in an El Niño year, which is an abnormal warming of the Pacific Ocean, this would serve as an inhibiting effect. However, this year, said Gonguez, there is no El Niño.

Furthermore, anomalously high sea temperatures in the main development area just off the West Coast of Africa have been observed, and we are at that part of the cycle where there is a heightened level of activity in the Atlantic Basin, Gonguez noted.

The Chief Met Officer cautioned that forecasts cannot tell exactly where storms will strike. The named storms are distinct from tropical depressions which can result in massive flooding.

Fairweather emphasized that Belizeans should listen for the official advisories from the Belize Met Service, which is the primary source of information. That information is channeled through NEMO, which issues the public advisories.

The public is also advised to seek appropriate shelter early, preferably during daylight hours, Fairweather said. She said that NEMO has designated schools, churches and community centers to keep people safe and dry during major storms.

Minister Hulse issued this caution: “We do not guarantee that the shelter you go to will withstand a category 4 or 5 hurricane. As you know, the shelters are schools, churches, community centers – none of which NEMO built. We found them. This is our Belize. We do not necessarily adhere to all the construction standards that we should. So while NEMO has put its best to ensure that the shelters are reasonably safe, we do not guarantee the shelters. We say they are better than where you live, and that is why we ask you to move. Some may be at higher ground and you’re subject to flooding and those shelters may not be. Some are better to withstand the winds.”

He also warned employers—particularly some business people who put “the almighty dollar” above human life—that they should not try to keep workers back when national advisories call for business closures.

“When we say you close and we want your people to go home, they will go home. Send them home. That is important to remember. Some years ago, in one of the storms in the South, I think Iris, a boat owner who thought he would defy the order refused to allow some of his employees to go; and those who left, he said, were fired. At least they left, they preserved their life. You know the story there. So when we ask you to move, please move,” he stressed.

NEMO says: “Historically, 90 percent of all hurricane casualties have occurred from drowning and 10 percent from other causes. Therefore, it is imperative that all persons should evacuate cayes, beaches and other locations which may be swept by high tides or storm waves. Evacuate to a recommended place of refuge.”

The organization also notes that “the highest tide occurs during the second half of the storm and… the rise of the water may take place very rapidly, immediately following the eye of the storm or the time of the lowest barometric pressure.”

NEMO advises evacuees to leave early if the only passage to high ground is over a flood-prone road.

“Do not run the risk of being marooned or having to evacuate at the height of the storm amid flying debris,” it urges.

More information will be forthcoming. The NEMO team has committed to holding regular media briefings, starting next week. Minister Hulse also spoke of the possibility of alerts being sent to customers via text messages.

Minister Hulse said: “Collectively pray… Remember to always pray.”

The Scripture read at the press briefing is Psalm 121: 1-8 — A Song of degrees:

“I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from where my help comes. My help comes from [YAHUAH], who made heaven and earth. He will not suffer your foot to be moved: He who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, He that keeps Yisra’el shall neither slumber nor sleep. [YAHUAH] is your keeper: [YAHUAH] is your shade upon your right hand. The sun will not smite you by day nor the moon by night. [YAHUAH] will preserve you [Yisra’el] from all evil: He will preserve your soul. [YAHUAH] will preserve your going out and your coming in, from this time forth and even forevermore.”

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