By ALLISON ALI in Trinidad
Still reeling from the effects of Hurricane Ivan which ripped through the Caribbean last year, Jamaica, Haiti and the Cayman Islands have both been put on hurricane watch as "Dennis" the fourth storm of the 2005 Atlantic season makes it way to the islands.
Packing sustained winds near 112 kph that fell to 104 kph late afternoon, Dennis could dump up to 30.5 centimetres of rain over mountains in its path, including Jamaica's coffee-producing Blue Mountains, according to the US National Hurricane Centre in Miami.
In Jamaica, some rural communities on the east of the island including St Thomas, Portland and St Mary have been cut off by heavy flood waters. Authorities have planned to fly over these affected communities to search for stranded villagers.
Jamaica has already been experiencing thunder-storms island wide and residents living in low lying areas as well as fishing communities have been asked to seek higher ground.
Ms Ruth Chisholm, director of emergency services and communication in the Jamaica Red Cross (JRC) said hurricane Dennis was expected to make landfall at about 12 pm on Thursday. She said the affected communities so far were located in the parish of St Thomas and that some of the main roads in Morant Bay are inaccessible mainly because of flooding. She estimates that about four communities have been cut off.
"However, in those communities that have been cut off, there is at least one Community Disaster Response Team (CDRT) which knows the area better than anyone else. We have been in contact with the team leader and we are trying to figure out a way to get into the community."
The Red Cross branch in that community has been pre-positioned with relief items and the branches in nearby Kingston and St Andrew are on standby to render any assistance that may be necessary.
Additionally, CDRTs and National Intervention Teams (NITs) have been mobilized in all communities that have been affected so far. Ms Chisholm said about 25 shelters have been opened in St Thomas, Westmoreland, St Mary, Claredon and St Andrew and the Red Cross has pre-positioned shelters managers. A number of families have already been relocated to the shelters.
Mrs Jondo Obi, director general of the Cayman Islands Red Cross (CIRC) said that they were going to open their shelter at 5 pm on Thursday afternoon. She said that so far they were currently monitoring the movement of Dennis.
The CIRC disaster response system which has about 120 volunteers has already been activated. Schools have been closed and government offices will be closed at 1 pm. Business enterprises have been encouraged to do the same.
Ivan ripped through the Caribbean for more than a week in September 2004 with power and destruction unseen in the region in the last ten years. Dubbed 'Ivan the Terrible', the hurricane wreaked havoc in the islands of Grenada, Tobago, Barbados, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Jamaica and the Cayman Islands before making its way to Cuba and Florida.
The islands that suffered the most damage were Grenada, Jamaica and the Cayman Islands. It damaged homes, buildings and infrastructure, cut off utilities and claimed at least 100 lives. Many more were placed at risk from disease, contaminated drinking water and food shortages.
In Haiti, Dennis is threatening the southern part of the island where there are two major populated communities called Département du Sud and Grand Anse. The area is considered to be highly vulnerable to flooding.
Access roads are likely to be cut if rainfall exceeds average level. Costal villages are being evacuated and approximately 300 Haitian Red Cross volunteers have been mobilized in Les Cayes and are ready to work on evacuation of the most vulnerable populations.
Hurricane Jeanne caused massive destruction in Haiti last year when it triggered flooding and mudslides, about 1,500 people were killed, 900 missing and presumed dead and 200,000 left homeless.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (Federation) has released 250,000 Swiss francs from its Disaster Response Emergency Fund (DREF) to support the immediate response.
The Pan American Disaster Response Unit (PADRU) is deploying a disaster management delegate to Haiti and other delegates have been mobilized and are ready to be deployed to the other islands.
PADRU is also in the process of pre-enlisting a charter flight to Haiti with relief for 1,000 families. Other flights can be deployed with the same items to Jamaica and Cayman Islands if necessary.