On Tuesday night we went to bed with the wind howling and the rain lashing down and woke in the morning to more of the same, but we had no power. With only the radio on our mobile phone to get information about the storm, we listened keenly to the news bulletins and heard that Tropical Storm Sandy had turned into a Category One Hurricane.
The opinion was that it was going to hit Jamaica’s South coast on Wednesday 24th October 2012, travelling through the country and leaving on the northern coast near to Ocho Rios. Schools and airports have been closed and many areas were on curfew until Thursday evening. Wondering what was happening and if it was likely that my roof would be torn off, I rang my sister in the UK and asked her to find out what was happening! Luckily she was able to look online and kept me posted long into the night about what was going on (God Bless You Emma!). Hurricane Sandy made landfall and hit Kingston in the evening at speeds of 80mph / 125kph and rushed over the eastern side of the country. My sister even let me know when the worst was over as Hurricane Sandy had left Jamaica and was picking up speed towards Cuba.
JPS lose Power
It hasn’t been easy the last few days as like 70% of the country we have no power, so that means, no light, no phone, no internet, no cooking – as I have an electric oven and no fridge or freezer, so most of the fresh food you have stored spoils in front of your eyes….
By the time Wednesday night came I wanted something hot in my belly and came up with an ingenious way of making a cup of tea using a punched metal tea light holder as a stand, on which I placed an enamel mug filled with water. It took about 30 minutes for the water to be hot enough to draw tea, but I can tell once the condensed milk went in and I tasted that first mouthful, it tasted like the best cup of tea ever!
Incidently we finally got power back yesterday (29th October 2012).
Major Towns on Lock Down as Police Impose Curfew
Most of the island affected by the Hurricane are on curfew as the police try to prevent looting of business places until power has been restored. We would have been dead for hunger if it wasn’t for the bread, crackers, tuna fish and Vienna sausages in the cupboard which barely lasted us until the curfew was temporarily lifted in the evening on 25th October 2012 and we could leave the house to seek hot food in the town, where the larger stores or those lucky enough to have a generator are trading. The town was eerily scanty with hardly anything open and only a few people milling about which was unusual for Ochi.
All the larger chain food stores were open and taking in a tidy trade as locals seeped into the early evening and darkness of the night looking for something hot to eat and somewhere where the light worked.
The large supermarkets took advantage of the trade as people came into town to stock up on dry goods and candles. The small and medium-sized businesses either get by with a few random lightbulbs to guide customers and an increase of staff to keep a check on thefts, or they simply take orders from the door and retrieve the required items themselves.
As night started to come down some people seemed fearful of walking home alone and waited in the fast food chains for relatives to meet them to accompany them home. We decided as we had a 15 minute walk we too should make our way back home and started to walk up the dark main road stepping over debris and trying to avoid large puddles in the darkness.
We heard that the curfew was to be extended as the main grid was down and the police presence on the road was easy to see as night came down. When we got back home we actually sat outside for quite a while as it was a clear bright night with lots of moonshine and it was definitely brighter than the candle light we depended on indoors.
Heading to the Hills
Heading to the Hills
By Friday we had enough of staying along the coast and decided to travel into the countryside of St.Ann to stay with friends for a few days. After walking into town we saw the fast food restaurants full up and long lines of people waiting to use the ATM machines at the 2 main banks, as the stand alone cash dispensers still weren’t working. The police were in force again and we noticed the numerous Guardsman trucks with their armed guards that seemed to be working overtime, as they frequently stop and jump out of their truck, diligently surveying the vicinity as they collect money from business places.
As we drove along the main road we noticed men working on the power lines that were on the ground near to Dunn’s River, but there was no sign of any of the street lights working.
We saw pockets of power along the road towards Runaway Bay, although it was mainly dark and lonely looking on the streets. As we turned off at Runaway Bay and into the interior of the country we didn’t see any street lights working and most of the houses were in darkness, it didn’t seem to slow down the bus though as it tore down the roads at the usual breakneck speed!
A few business places were open along the way and were reasonably full as residents came out to socialise and get out of the house for a while. Many people I spoke to in the countryside of St.Ann had commented that they had lost banana and plantain trees, yam canes had been blown down and other delicate crops had been damaged by Hurricane Sandy. I heard of one person whose roof had been torn off and house had suffered extensive damage in the storm and I offered them what help I could.
The hills of St.Ann were in darkness and just one house and one bar had power where I was staying, whereby everyone nearby would come and ask to charge their phone.
Back to Town… Power Is Back…
After staying the weekend it was impossible to get a taxi down to the next big town on Sunday as many people weren’t working and I had to wait until early evening on Monday before I could leave out to head back for the coast. We had heard that power had been restored in Browns Town, Alexandria (Charlton) and St. Dacre and we saw a JPS (Jamaica Public Service Company – Jamaica’s sole power supplier) truck come up to Grants Mountain on Monday before we left, but still no power in the hills.
By the time we reached Ocho Rios in the early evening it looked as if power had been restored to the town centre and we headed out of town we were pleased to see that JPS had restored power in our residential area.
Unfortunately I had to throw away nearly all the fresh food as the power had been off for 6 days by the time I managed to get home. But at least I could cook, have cold drinks to enjoy and use the light, charge my BB and use the internet!
God Bless Portland, St. Mary and St.Thomas
Although I had heard that most of the worst damage was felt in Portland, St. Mary and St.Thomas, it was only on looking on the internet today that I realised the full extent of the damage in Jamaica and felt so grateful for just losing power and a few fresh goods in the past week.
One man lost his life and I saw pictures where people lost their houses and were standing in the shell of their home looking at what could be saved. Many trees fell down and power lines were ripped from the ground leaving residents without power up to now.
Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller Response
The Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller announced on Tuesday that 71 houses have been found totally destroyed and 348 were severely damaged in eastern parishes raked by the hurricane; she is determined to fast track the building legislation to prevent houses being built in unsafe areas again. Heavy damage to livestock, peppers, coconuts, bananas, and the island’s Blue Mountain coffee, has also been felt with early estimates of the financial aftermath of the Hurricane coming in at least $16.5 million.
The Jamaican prime minister states has there have been pledges of support for storm recovery from Germany, Japan, France, Trinidad & Tobago and the U.S. Agency for International Development. Jamaica is also trying to forge a new agreement with the International Monetary Fund and went on to say:
“Even before the hurricane we faced serious economic challenges. This has been made worse by the passage of Hurricane Sandy,” Simpson Miller said.
My heart goes out to those affected by Hurricane Sandy and I hope that power is restored soon to the island to help bring back some semblance of normality and so that people may go back to work. May family, friends and neighbours come together to help one another at this time of need.
YB Afraid Foundation – The first charity efforts in the Portland region was by Yohan Blake’s YB Afraid Foundation working alongside Food For the Poor whereby they distributed supplies to about 700 striken residents.
Digicel – I also have to say a big up to Digicel as they kept their promise and enabled those in Jamaica to keep in touch with friends and relatives both in Jamaica and a foreign throughout the whole week by keeping the phone system working. They have also been giving emergency supplies packages to about 3000 residents in the Manchioneal and Annotto Bay area after making an aerial assessment of the worst affected areas of the island. A representative stated:
“In times of natural disasters I think it is important that we move quickly to help the most vulnerable in our communities, and today thousands came out and collected relief packs in the Manchioneal and Annotto Bay area today. We toured sections of the most affected communities yesterday and decided that we were not going to wait to help. And so we partnered with ODPEM and the Salvation Army to swiftly undertake this relief effort today,”
he went on to say:
“the need is great out here. With no electricity in most areas in Portland and St. Mary, some persons haven’t gone back out to work as yet and so these rural communities are really in need. That is why Digicel decided to undertake this relief effort by not only providing charging stations in various areas but also basic food items to assist with day to day living.”shared Digicel Jamaica CEO Andy Thorburn.
Jamaica National Building Society – has slashed it remittance fees by 50% as part of their efforts to help in the national recovery programme after the passage of Hurricane Sandy. The offer extended to Jamaicans in the Diaspora remitting funds to local relatives and friends. The discount is aimed at facilitating the response to relatives and friends, particularly persons in the parishes of St Thomas, Portland and St Mary, who were significantly affected by Sandy.