With a tropical storm expected to pass Jamaica this weekend, preparations are in high gear across the parishes, including St Mary and Clarendon, which have been greatly impacted by weather systems in the past.
The Meteorological Service of Jamaica has had a severe weather alert in effect for the island, with a tropical storm watch being announced at 5:pm om Friday.
The weather system, which is currently classified as a tropical depression, should begin to impact Jamaica and its territorial waters by Saturday, the Met Service said in bulletin number eight.
By then, sections of the island should see an increase in showers and gusty winds.
At the Central Government level, then Acting Prime Minister, Dr Horace Chang, said the relevant public agencies are all on alert in respect of possible negative impacts from the weather system.
At the local level, and given the fact that Port Maria has been repeatedly flooded in the past by torrential rain – the last time being in February of this year – the town’s Mayor, Richard Creary, has indicated that drain cleaning has already commenced.
Other preparations are also in high gear, said Creary.
“Our shelters have been checked and they have been found suitable,” he said during a radio interview on Thursday.
“Our shelter managers are all in place. We have a WhatsApp group that they communicate with our disaster coordinator, and they have been put on high alert based on the impending system,” the mayor continued.
He confessed, however, that Port Maria and another seaside town in the parish, Annotto Bay, could experience some amount of flooding.
“But, as you well know, there are areas in St Mary that you prepare as best as you can, but if the rain comes and comes in a certain magnitude, there is basically nothing you can do (to prevent flooding),” Creary said frankly.
According to him, the drain-cleaning programme remains ongoing, and every month councillors in the parish receive funds to do drain cleaning, especially those known to cause flooding.
The cause of February’s flooding in the St Mary parish capital that affected residents and scores of businesses, was blamed on the Otram River that runs through the town.
Creary expressed the view that the river needs to be “dredged”.
“There are fishermen who tell us that you used to be able to go up the Otram River with their engine boats. Now, not even a paddle boat can go up the Otram River, based on how silted that river is.
“I do believe it needs dredging, and nothing has happened since February. I am hopeful it will be dredged eventually,” said Creary, adding that the National Works Agency (NWA) would be responsible for the dredging exercise.
Another town where flooding has been an issue in the past relative to weather events is May Pen, the capital of Clarendon.
That town’s Mayor, Winston Maragh, has confessed that like Port Maria, May Pen is prone to flooding.
“The town of May Pen will flood. We have outgrown the drains in the town,” he admitted.
“It will flood as long as we have excess amount of rainfall. We can’t run from it. It’s just how the town was designed years ago,” Maragh informed.
He proposed that a “huge amount of funds” is required “to acquire properties in order to widen all of these drains” in the town.
With the weather system fast approaching the island, the May Pen mayor disclosed that Clarendon currently has 93 shelters that have all been checked by the parish’s disaster coordinator.
Additionally, he said the coordinator is ensuring that all shelter managers are prepared for any situation relative to the weather system.
In relation to drain cleaning, Maragh said: “From time to time, we do clean our drains.
“We are expecting that some other funds might come to assist us, because the parochial revenue fund is not enough to do all our drains,” he indicated.
Over in western Jamaica, the St James Municipal Corporation has also heightened its preparation for the severe weather expected this weekend.
This was disclosed by Deputy Mayor of Montego Bay, Richard Vernon, who was speaking to media on Thursday.
He said based on dialogue with the parish’s disaster coordinator, all shelters have been assessed.
For those schools used as shelters, Vernon said classes will be dismissed there by 12:30 pm on Friday, to facilitate further preparations.
The main trouble area for Montego Bay is the South Gully, which has been cited as the perennial cause of flooding during weather events.
“We have looked at the South Gully… and the other major infrastructure in Montego Bay that usually contributes to floods, and of course, the National Works Agency, they have been alerted,” said Vernon.
He revealed that the municipal corporation will be working closely with NWA as they look at other problem areas that cause flooding.
Added Vernon relative to the possibility of flooding in Montego Bay: “Once there is a certain volume of water within a short period of time, there will be flooding, because we have a capacity issue, but we have to ensure that we advise the residents accordingly.”
However, he advised that drain-cleaning exercises will be ongoing.
In the old capital of Spanish Town, Mayor Norman Scott said he is still awaiting funds to do drain cleaning.
“There are some critical drains that are in need of cleaning, and in so far as the ministry (of Local Government and Rural Development) is concerned, we had a meeting yesterday (Wednesday) and they are hoping that the funding will be dispatched to the municipal corporations today (Friday),” Scott explained.
Shelter managers, said the mayor, are on high alert if the need arises from any impact of the weather system.