Colorado State University’s Tropical Cyclone Project named 11 storms for 2017 and predicted four may become hurricanes and two may even exceed speeds of 100 mph. According to John Tibbetts, the Director General of CINWS, Cayman has already experienced unusual weather patterns this year with “heavy showers in the month of April and the presence of post-tropical cyclone Arlene.” He reminds the public that “nature does not always play by rules” so it is important that residents remain vigilant and begin proper hurricane preparedness before a storm forms.
Hurricane season runs from the 1st of June to the 30th of November. Compared to other Caribbean countries, Cayman remained relatively unscathed by storms every season, but that all changed in 2004 when Hurricane Ivan devastated the Cayman Islands causing billions of dollars in infrastructural and economic damage. Fortunately the Islands recovered and government agencies have done even more to improve their disaster management protocols. A very good hurricane information pack is available from Hazard Management and can be downloaded from www.caymanprepared.ky. You can also follow the helpful tips in Cayman Resident’s guide below.
Carefully assess your home. Start by ensuring that trees are gently pruned (if necessary), especially if they are close to power lines or water pipes. This will minimise damage to your electricity and water supply from debris and uprooted plants. Never attempt to cut branches close to power lines yourself; call CUC on Tel: (345) 949 5200 and their Customer Service Department will send a team to evaluate your property and trim any potential hazards. You should also ask your gardener or strata maintenance to remove coconuts as they become dangerous missiles in high winds and a threat to your home.
Go through the ‘Things To Do’ checklist leading up to a storm and ensure that you turn off your main breaker and unplug appliances to prevent electrical damage from lightning and power surges. Cayman is a small, flat island so sea levels can rise during storm surge. In the event of a major hurricane (category three or above), move to at least 10ft above sea level (the storm surge during Ivan was measured at 8-10ft). If possible find higher ground to park your car and boat.
Make plans to be without power for 5–7 days, though it could be even longer. After Hurricane Ivan, it took 3–8 weeks for electricity and landline telephones and about 1–2 weeks for water supplies to be restored to most parts of Cayman. You should have an emergency supply of canned food and water that will last for at least a week. It is advised to store a gallon of water per day for each person in your house. To keep drinking water cool, store containers in dark locations. Also, having a portable radio with extra batteries on hand is very important. Radio Cayman 89.9FM is a good radio station for hurricane information and updates on how the storm is progressing, although your favourite radio station will also keep you updated.
Preparation is the key – it’s too late to install hurricane shutters or a generator during the hurricane season as parts take time to order and install. When a hurricane is imminent, it is too late to measure up and try to fit plywood shutters or to buy supply kits, as other people will be doing the same and supplies may run short. It is also too late to think about saving your personal items, important documents, filling the car gas tank and water containers or withdrawing money from the bank when a hurricane is imminent, as the water and power may be turned off 12 hours before the hurricane hits! Remember that weather conditions will turn wet and windy well before the hurricane is due to hit, so your preparations will be further hampered.
Take out enough cash to last you for a few weeks, as no one will take personal cheques after a storm, ATM machines may not work and banks could ration cash withdrawals.
Decide where you are going to stay for the duration of a hurricane well ahead of time. If your home is strong, elevated and away from the coastline, then it is probably the best place to ride out a storm. Check with neighbours ahead of time and ask about the vulnerability of the surrounding area in which you live. If you decide that it is safe to stay in your home, find the safest areas in your house and potential escape routes as well. If you determine that your property is not strong enough (or if the location in which you live makes it vulnerable) then plan to evacuate. Low-lying areas or areas prone to flooding are at particular risk.
Many people are often able to take shelter at their place of work or at a friend’s house on higher ground. Hurricane shelters are certainly an option to consider and the list of locations is available on the Cayman Prepared website (www.caymanprepared.ky). Shelters however, should be considered as a last resort – they are crowded and the conditions very basic, with none of the comforts of home. You should make sure you take a shelter kit with enough supplies for a number of days. Generally, shelters do not allow pets, alcohol, smoking, heavy or excess luggage, valuables or weapons. If you are interested in volunteering as a Shelter Manager, contact Mrs. Lynda Mitchell at the Department of Children and Family Services on (345) 949 0290 or (345) 925 5346 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org