BY mid-afternoon yesterday, the streets of Antigua and Barbuda were mostly deserted. Shops were closed and people obeyed police instructions to stay off the streets for their own safety. All because of a frighteningly angry female named Hurricane Irma.
Packing winds at around 185 miles per hour with wind gusts extending over 200 miles per hour, the category five hurricane moved swiftly and surely as she headed with all her wrath to the twin island state. She was expected to hit land at about 8pm.
The hurricane was described by the National Hurricane Centre as the most powerful hurricane recorded in the Atlantic basin, excluding the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico, and has been registering on instruments used to measure earthquakes.
Just last week, category four hurricane Harvey caused havoc and devastation in Houston, Texas, in the United States. Harvey left several dead and thousands homeless as their homes stood under several feet of flood water.
Newsroom manager at the Antigua Observer Martina McDonald-Johnson told Newsday yesterday evening, while there was no curfew in place at the time, businesses were closed and the place was battened down. There was a high police presence to prevent looting.
McDonald-Johnson said even before 6pm they were already experiencing heavy rains and winds, and once the storm hit, nobody except emergency personnel would be allowed on the roads.
“Prime Minister Gaston Browne has already put himself on standby to speak to the nation via the media. The list of shelters has been out since the start of June because we are in the hurricane zone. People are not shocked that we are going to have this storm, but I think today it really sank in the severity that we should expect. Back in 1995 when we were hit by Hurricane Luis, it was 140 miles per hour with wind gusts extending to 180 miles per hour.
“We are looking at a much more dangerous storm which the Met Office said is expected to drench us with 12 inches of rain. It is closer to Barbuda than it is to Antigua, but that does not in any way mean that we will be spared unless Hurricane Irma decides to divert and move off into the Atlantic.”
McDonald-Johnson said Barbuda was flat and it is all on the coastal front, so the entire Barbuda was at risk of flooding. In Antigua there are mountainous areas so there are risks of mudslides and landslides.
“There are low lying areas which, on an ordinary day, two inches of rain would flood, so if we are talking 12 inches of rain we are looking at severe flooding in most parts of Barbuda.”
McDonald-Johnson said most supermarkets started running out of goods since Monday because at the last minute, it was then it home that there was a storm coming.
“Today some supermarkets had such a rush because they realised we were going to have the greatest storm we ever had in the history of our country, and greatest in the negative sense, not the positive sense. Supermarkets would have closed off today. Their shelves are empty, they were asking people to stop coming since about noon, and of course to ensure their staff would be able to go home and be safe.”
She said they were expecting waves upwards of 20 feet, and those people who lived in the coastal areas would see a lot more rain than some people in higher areas. She said they were looking at a lot of flooding, not because of rain alone, but also the water from the sea.
“Those living in low lying areas were urged to evacuate since last week. They were asked yesterday again because we were no longer under hurricane watch, we have been warned meaning that it is not a possibility we will be hit, but it is a certainty. Hopefully they heed the warning and even if the do not evacuate, then get to higher ground.”
Irma has been forging a path following Antigua/Barbuda, Montserrat, St Kitts/Nevis, Anguilla, and the US and British Virgin Islands. Puerto Rico was next on her list to wreak havoc, while southern Florida and the Florida Keys were also preparing for the worst if she stayed on her current path.
All these islands were in full preparation mode as Irma made her way. Life-threatening conditions were expected across the northern Caribbean as she barrelled her way through.
The hurricane was also having an effect on the Caribbean coastlines, particularly north of Trinidad and Tobago.
The TT Meteorological Service (TTMS) at Piarco yesterday said based on current analysis, long period swells were forecasted until this evening (Wednesday). The TTMS said while the northerly swells had not been significantly affecting TT, the northern and sheltered coastlines could still experience some effects over the next 24-36 hours.
Fisher folk and citizens, especially those living along the coastal areas, are advised to be alert.
Deputy chief executive officer at the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Management Neville Wint said TT was prepared to offer assistance to any of the island states affected by Irma.
He said the regional response mechanism has been activated by the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CEDEMA).