With borders still closed, Hazard Management Cayman Islands leaders have said they cannot guarantee frequent evacuation flights out of Cayman over hurricane season, especially for those who are not vaccinated.
“You need to be prepared and you need to have a place to go to on island if you can’t get off,” urged HMCI director Danielle Coleman when she appeared on the Cayman Compass weekly talk show The Resh Hour Wednesday evening.
She said HMCI has held discussions with Cayman Airways who confirmed they can get about 1600 people a day off the island if needed over hurricane season, but, admittedly, she said this is a lot less than in the past when more flights were coming from American Airlines and others.
‘Slim’ chances of getting on a flight
“They’re not going to be coming in here anytime soon. Well, it depends when the borders open, but again, I think it’s really important that people do have a plan. If by chance there is something impending if you do intend to evacuate, you make sure you get your flight very, very quickly and very early to book it. Otherwise, the chances of you getting that fight are very slim,” Coleman said.
However, Coleman added that HMCI also works with consular agencies so there may potentially be flights coming in later in the year which may help.
“But right now, I’d suggest it’s probably just Cayman Airways and potentially British Airways on their every two-week flight,” she said.
Coleman said she believes people have been more prepared than ever in the last year, “because we haven’t got the same evacuation fights happening.”
HMCI deputy director Simon Boxall stressed the importance of getting hurricane supplies ready as well as planning on where to shelter in a storm.
“We can’t guarantee that we’re going to get evacuation flights, particularly that those who don’t have the vaccine. So, it’s really very important that you think about where you’re going to shelter. Obviously, that’s the primary concern but also things like non-perishable food and water and if you’ve got a pet, you really need to think about that in advance because it’s an important issue and there’s not that many spaces in the pet shelter,” he added.
Hurricane Ivan ‘not the worst case’
Boxall said whatever residents and businesses can do in advance to get ready for hurricane season will help in the long run.
“At the end of the day, [those are] the ones that survive and the ones that bounce back quickest. So it’s really important to think about things strategically, knowing that, in fact [Hurricane] Ivan is not the worst case and that is for many people, they can’t really picture anything less,” he said.
However, he pointed out that Hurricane Dorian had a 23 foot surge in Bahamas and in 2019, hurricanes Irma and Maria had waves in excess of 15 to 16 feet.
“We had Ivan, it was terrible, but it’s not the worst. So you have to think about that in terms of when you, when you’re planning, how high is my floor slab above sea level? Am I in a single-story dwelling or am I already close to the coast? And if you do, you’ve really just got to think that through; where can I actually go and shelter?” he said.
Evacuation plan for quarantiners
Coleman said as part of the planning for hurricane season they have also looked at evacuation plans for those in isolation facilities and in home quarantine.
She said they are working with Travel Cayman, as they did last year, to make sure they can evacuate these individuals in a safe manner.
“They’ll go into approved quarantining type environments in the hotels, but in the upper floors,” Boxall said, adding that there is a system in place for transporting people in quarantine.
Coleman added that on Wednesday HMCI and national emergency supporting agencies conducted a hurricane exercise to test their response and it went well.
She said a downloadable national emergency notification application is coming out very soon.
“We trialled it [Wednesday] in the National Emergency Operation Centre. It is a downloadable app. It’ll come anytime we have a major event. This is things like an earthquake, or a tsunami scare, or very large fire, or a significant change in a hurricane speed. We’ll be sending out audible alerts to the app. So, it’s a great thing to download,” Coleman said.