Jamaica: Gov't. prepared for hurricane Dennis - Agencies collaborating

KINGSTON, (JIS): Thursday, July 07, 2005 - Minister of Local Government, Community Development and Sport, Portia Simpson Miller has given the assurance that the government and all its agencies and departments were on full alert for Hurricane Dennis, which is expected to begin affecting the island by midnight.

Addressing a press briefing on Hurricane Dennis at Jamaica House this evening, Mrs. Simpson Miller, who has been in charge of the government, in the absence of Prime Minister P.J. Patterson, told the briefing that all stakeholders inclusive of the Ministers of Environment, Transport and Works and Information had been fully briefed on the situation at a meeting of the National Disaster Committee which met earlier today. Prime Minister Patterson, who was delayed due to inclement weather conditions, was scheduled to arrive in the island at 6:45 pm today.

"We were fully briefed and we are satisfied that all the agencies of government and the local authorities are prepared for what is to come. The national response team and the Parish Development Committees were activated and schools were ordered closed today until Friday," she informed, adding that Minister of Land and Environment, Dean Peart had briefed the Leader of the Opposition and his team on all the plans which would be undertaken by the government. She also informed that the Ministry of Local Government had made allocations to the Parish Councils.

Mrs. Simpson Miller further informed that the health sector had indicated that it was fully prepared and had begun a public education campaign. Meanwhile, the security forces have been put on full alert.

"Based on what happened during Ivan, we are ensuring that some of those things will not happen again. The security forces this morning vowed that they will be taking charge of a number of areas to ensure that we will not have a repeat," she assured.

According to Director General of the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management, Dr. Barbara Carby, who also addressed the briefing, some 30 shelters were already opened in five parishes and the National Emergency Centre will be announcing additional shelters as they are established across the island. Particular attention is being paid to flood prone areas, with all the relevant areas collaborating for efficiency.

Mrs. Simpson Miller made a special appeal to persons who will have to use shelters to treat the facilities with respect as this was only the beginning of the hurricane season and these shelters may be needed for use later in the season. "We expect the churches, and the schools and the community centres to be treated in a way that next week, we will be able to reopen our schools. It can be done," Mrs. Simpson Miller said.

On the vital matter of water, the Local Government Minister said the National Water Commission was advising customers to store as much water as possible. "We are not sure of what will happen and if for example our power lines should be affected, then certainly it will affect our supply". Although the Jamaica Public Service Company (JPSCo) does not expect to shut off power supply, if hurricane winds are high, Mrs. Simpson Miller noted, the utility company might be forced to shut down power supplies.

She used the opportunity to appeal to all communities to unite to ensure the protection of children, senior citizens and persons with disabilities. "I would urge that we ensure our personal protection as well. We are asking the entire country to be on full alert and we are asking every Jamaican to ensure that the necessary precaution is taken for your security," she said.