Gustav aims at SI

As of Tuesday morning, the National Hurricane Centre in Miami forecasted the eye of Hurricane Gustav to pass very close to Cayman Brac and Little Cayman Friday morning as a major hurricane.


People ride in the back of a truck through a flooded street caused by rain from Tropical Storm Gustav in Santo Domingo, Monday, Aug. 25, 2008. Dominican authorities issued storm warnings and advised small boats to remain in port, even on the north side of the island of 17 million people. Photo: AP

However, there was still significant spread in computer modelling of the storm, with some models forecasting Gustav to pass south of Grand Cayman and others predicting a path well north of the Sister Islands. Several models predicted the storm to pass in between Grand Cayman and Cayman Brac.

On the Brac, District Commissioner Ernie Scott said authorities had already begun shuttering non-essential buildings, checking generators and ensuring deep-well drains were clean – particularly ones around the pond by Gerrard Smith Airport – to minimise possible flooding of the runway

‘We are taking this as a very serious threat,’ Mr. Scott said Tuesday morning. ‘On the information at the moment, I’m looking at a Cat-3 hurricane Friday morning completely covering up the Sister Islands.

‘The bottom line is that the Cayman Islands as a whole is going to get a blast from this one. This is not a Fay.’

Mr. Scott said he expected to convene a meeting of his emergency committee Tuesday afternoon to further prepare for Gustav.

‘Tomorrow is not going to expire without a very firm decision regarding the opening of shelters,’ he said. ‘We have plenty of warning with this one, which we are grateful for, and we are going to be prudent and take full advantage of the advance warning that we have.’

Mr. Scott said authorities on the Sister Islands were preparing for all eventualities.

‘We try to continually stay in a state of readiness here in the Sister Islands, realising that at any time, we could be completely disconnected, not just geographically, but in terms of information links … from Grand Cayman.’

Shifting track

The forecast track of the storm, which became Tropical Depression 7 Monday morning, Tropical Storm Gustav Monday afternoon and Hurricane Gustav early Tuesday morning, shifted towards the south since Monday. Senior Meteorologist Ken Reeves explained the reason for the southward shift.

‘There’s a fairly large ridge of high pressure in the upper atmosphere over the Gulf of Mexico and Southern U.S.,’ he said. ‘A hurricane almost bobs like a cork in a stream at the edge of the high pressure.’

The high pressure system was driving Gustav further south and west than models predicted on Monday, Reeves said.

‘It does appear it will traverse the northwestern Caribbean Sea at this point. That unfortunately means it will have a pretty significant impact on the Cayman Islands.’

Reeves said it was too early to say if Gustav would have more of an impact on Grand Cayman or the Sister Islands.

‘I do believe it probably will be a major Category 3 hurricane when it passes the Cayman Islands,’ he said. ‘But it’s not out of the question that it could be as high as Category 4.’

Although Gustav is taking a track similar to the one Tropical Storm Fay took several weeks ago, Reeves said there were several key differences.

‘Fay interacted with land too much,’ he said. ‘Gustav is farther south, so it won’t have the same interaction with Cuba to affect its development.’

The sea surface temperatures north of Jamaican and south of Cuba are more than warm enough to promote development of Gustav, Reeves said, adding that the high pressure ridge near the storm acted to ventilate it more, facilitating intensification.

‘If I were in the Cayman Islands, I would be preparing for sustained winds of 100 to 120 miles per hour,’ he said. ‘You’re probably better off expecting some of the worst. I’d rather be over-prepared than under-prepared.

Government prepares

Hazard Management Cayman Islands continued to monitor Gustav on Tuesday and planned for its council to meet at 3pm.

‘The Cayman Islands are likely to move into a Hurricane Watch sometime today,’ Hazard Management CI said through the Joint Communications Service early Tuesday afternoon.

A Hurricane Watch means hurricane conditions could be experienced within 36 hours. A Hurricane Warning means hurricane conditions are expected within 24 hours.

Hazard Management CI urged residents to begin preparations for Gustav.

The Cayman Islands Hospital said it would not shut down during the storm. While some elective procedures and outpatient services could be cancelled, all inpatient services will continue throughout the storm, with back-up generators able to sustain the hospital through any power outages.

Public Relations Officer Caswell Walford was keen to emphasise precautions for patients with special needs, including pregnant women and people reliant on prescription medications.

‘If you, a member of your family or someone you know is elderly, dependent on life-sustaining medication or equipment and who may require special overseas care should a storm threaten, please take the opportunity now to ensure that all travel documents are up to date and set aside funds, which you may require to offset your stay overseas,’ he said.

Pregnant women whose gestation period is 36 weeks or more or who have been identified by their physician as having a high risk pregnancy must be pre-registered for delivery in order to be accepted at the hospital during a hurricane, he added

The Royal Cayman Islands Police Service had also begun preparation for the storm, said Acting Police Commissioner David George.

‘The first issue really is that all staff make their own personal responsibilities and make their own personal plans…that give them the opportunity to be available…to deal with the contingencies that the organisation expects them to do,’ he said, adding that important public locations will be secured during a storm.

‘All those have been identified; we’ve identified the officers who are going to do that.’

Cayman Airways issued a statement Tuesday saying it would publish an alternate flight schedule replacing the current schedule at the time a hurricane warning was issued for the Cayman Islands.

‘The airline’s primary objective will be to transport people off of Grand Cayman… to South Florida,’ the airline said, adding that the one-way fares for flights would be US$250.

‘Passengers will be able to book on these flights using all normal means including Cayman Airways’ website, reservations call centre and ticket office and also through other travel agents.’

Cayman Airways said that due to the projected path of Hurricane Gustav, change fees and penalties were being waived for all passengers travelling to or from any Cayman Airways gateway between Tuesday 26 August and Sunday 31 August.

Compass journalist Brent Fuller also contributed to this story.