By ALLISON ALI in Trinidad
Less than a week after Hurricane Dennis made its way through the Caribbean causing death and destruction in Cuba, Jamaica and Haiti, the Windward Islands in the Caribbean are bracing for Tropical Storm Emily which is expected to make landfall on Wednesday. Emily, the fifth tropical storm of the 2005 Atlantic season is expected to become a hurricane before it reaches the islands.
Several islands in the Caribbean including Tobago, Grenada, St Vincent and the Grenadines and St Lucia are under hurricane watch while a tropical storm warning and hurricane watch are in effect for Trinidad and Barbados. A tropical storm warning is also in effect for a portion of the northern coast of Venezuela . Martinique is also under a tropical storm watch.
Last week, hurricane Dennis packing sustained winds near 112 kph killed at least ten people in Cuba and drove hundreds of thousands from their homes. In Jamaica, thousands of people were evacuated as roads were flooded. At least ten people were also killed in Haiti .
Forecasters have predicted that Emily was on track to Tobago and Grenada and its dependencies were expected to experience storm and hurricane conditions by late Wednesday. Emily is expected to produce total rain accumulations of three to six inches across the Windward Islands and portions of the northern costal area of Venezuela , with possible isolated amounts 12 inches over mountainous terrain. These rains could produce life-threatening flash floods and mud slides.
Some of the islands have already started experiencing hurricane conditions like heavy rains and flooding. Residents in flood prone areas are also being evacuated. In Trinidad and Tobago , the airport and businesses have been closed and residents have been advised to go home and make preparations. Inter-island ferries have also ceased operations.
Ms Lisa Lalsingh, director general of the Trinidad and Tobago Red Cross (TTRC) said they were mobilizing their offices in both Trinidad and Tobago to assist if the storm hits both islands. "Volunteers have been mobilized and we are assisting the National Emergency Management Office (NEMO) in setting up shelters. We have also done a full stock check to ensure relief items are available."
The TTRC is also issuing press releases to the media advising residents what precautions to take and also set up a call centre for interested persons to contact them if they need assistance.
Grenada , which is still recovering from hurricane Ivan is also preparing to deal with Emily. Ms Samantha Dickson, Health and Safety Director at the Grenada Red Cross (GRC) said they are better prepared to deal with a hurricane following hurricane Ivan which battered the island last year. "We are watching and waiting, and hoping that Emily does not come, but if she does we are prepared. We learned from hurricane Ivan."
For many Grenadians, Emily brings back painful memories of Ivan and there are long lines at gas stations and panic buying at supermarkets. Ms Dickson said all supermarket shelves were empty because people are afraid of what may happen.
Hurricane Ivan ripped through the Caribbean in September last year with power and destruction unseen in the region in the last ten years. Dubbed "Ivan the Terrible," the hurricane wreaked havoc in the tiny 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 . The hurricane moved through the region for more than a week, damaging homes, buildings and infrastructure, cutting off utilities and caused at least 100 deaths. Many people were placed at risk from disease, contaminated drinking water and food shortages.
In some areas, flood waters washed away small communities. The economic impact on these countries is huge. Grenada suffered the most with 90 percent of its housing stock being destroyed leaving 60,000 homeless. The Grenada Red Cross headquarters was also destroyed
The GRC has started mobilizing its volunteers and evacuating residents in low lying areas that are prone to flooding. "We have an agreement with the transport services to help relocate people from communities that are prone to flooding to some 36 buildings that have been designated for shelters. We don't expect a category three hurricane but we do anticipate some flooding." Additionally, those people who still have tarpaulins on their house or no roof at all have also been relocated to those buildings. The GRC was expected to officially open shelters at 4 pm .
Ms Dickson noted that they also have a better communication system set up and have equipped volunteers in every parish with handheld radios that can access at least one repeater. There is also a network of at least 62 mobile phones.
She added that the GRC was also in the process of arranging a wireless system so that if landlines are disrupted they will be able to use the internet. The GRC has already activated its Emergency Operations Centre (EOC).
The Pan American Disaster Response Unit (PADRU) has mobilized persons who are ready to be deployed to the Caribbean countries and relief stocks have been prepared to be sent to the countries that might be affected by Emily.
Mr Bernard Marksman, president of the St Vincent Red Cross said they were working with all sub committees of NEMO. Shelters were opened at midday and all businesses were closed. He said the country has about 100 shelters all of which has Red Cross personnel.
"We are working as best as we can and we are involved in all preparation aspects, but we have to wait and see now what happens."