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The passage of Tropical Storm Grace last week, which brought hurricane-force wind gusts and felled thousands of trees across Grand Cayman, should act as an incentive for residents to ensure they are prepared for future storms this season, Hazard Management Cayman Islands Director Danielle Coleman said.
Coleman, speaking with the Cayman Compass on 19 Aug., the day after the storm, said, “We are just at the start of the really busy season so we could get a lot more storms this year … it is a lesson for everyone to be really, really prepared.”
She said Grace was not what had been anticipated, and noted that the National Emergency Operations Centre was far busier that expected, which she stated reinforced the need for everyone to adequately prepare for any eventuality.
Governor Martyn Roper, in a statement to the Compass, said, “I thank everyone in the community for their resilience and support to family, friends and neighbours. It could have been much worse and we can be thankful that it wasn’t. That is especially so as we look at the devastation caused by weather events in many different parts of the world just this year and are reminded we are dealing with the very real impact of climate change.”
Ahead of the storm, seven shelters were opened on Grand Cayman, one on Cayman Brac and one on Little Cayman.
Coleman said about 16 to 20 people used the shelters at different times on Grand Cayman.
“It could have been much worse and we can be thankful that it wasn’t.
– Governor Martyn Roper
There were no reported injuries during the height of the storm, but there were incidents of residents having to be evacuated by the Cayman Islands Regiment because of damage to roofs and impassable roads caused by fallen trees and flooding.
Regiment Commander Colonel Simon Watson told the Compass, in an interview on 19 Aug., that teams were better prepared this year as they deployed newly purchased equipment which was able to clear debris and trees to enable emergency vehicles to pass.
However, he stressed, while they were able to work, he could not overstate the importance of residents keeping off the roads so emergency teams could do their jobs unimpeded.
“If there is a puddle and someone’s car goes down in that puddle and blocks that road, vehicles cannot get through. The emergency vehicles we’re using are designed to get through those types of water obstacles, but they can’t do it if someone’s vehicle is parked in the road blocking it. So, it is really key that people stay off the streets,” he said.
Coleman said she was disappointed to see some businesses resume operations before the all-clear was given at 6pm on 18 Aug.
While she said there was no legal provision to force closures, she urged the business community to consider the safety of their employees and customers, especially after long lines were seen at some fast-food outlets in George Town.
Watson, who was on duty the regiment during the storm on Wednesday, 18 Aug., assisted in the evacuation of a mother and her infant in George Town after the storm passed. It was one of several instances in which the reservists were called upon to act.
Residents and government agencies spent most of the following day clearing debris from the roadways and getting power restored.
There were reports of damage to properties across the island, with roof tiles ripped off and balconies destroyed in some homes and condo complexes.
At its closest point of impact, Grace passed 20 miles southwest of Grand Cayman at 8am on Wednesday, bringing hurricane-force wind gusts of up to 94 mph and heavy rains that continued throughout the day.
The storm, according to National Weather Service forecaster Kerry Powery, was upgraded to a Category 1 hurricane around 10am on 18 Aug. when it was 65 miles away from Grand Cayman, heading for Mexico.
Premier Wayne Panton met with his government early on 19 Aug. to discuss proposals for emergency funding to help clean up the worst impacted areas.
Speaking to the Compass late on Wednesday, 18 Aug., Panton said the aim was to release around $15,000 for each of the 19 constituencies to fund repairs and clean-up operations.
He said the money could be allocated by area MPs to clear yards and back roads and help repair homes and re-establish trees.
Government and Opposition members met later Thursday to discuss the post-storm strategy.
Phase one of that effort involved the clearing of parks and roadways, and providing immediate roof protection in the various constituencies, according to a press release from the premier’s office.
Phase two involves support for further home repairs once needs assessments have been done in the neighbourhoods.
Jon-Andrew Japal, head of the infrastructure cluster under the National Emergency Operations Centre, said late last week that preliminary findings indicated that there was not significant damage around the island, but some coastal areas were affected.
As for the civil service, acting Deputy Governor Gloria McField-Nixon and head of the National Hazard Management Council, gave the green light for limited government services to resume on 19 Aug. and allowed for remote working where possible.
Additional reporting by James Whittaker