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Region yet to feel full effects of Sandy
Hurricane Sandy is easily the most destructive weather system that has swept through the Caribbean and now the eastern seaboard of the United States during 2012.
The estimates of deaths attributed to the passage of Sandy are closing in on the 100 mark. The first dollar figure put on the destruction to infrastructure in New Jersey, New York, Washington, Maryland, Connecticut and elsewhere has reached US$20 billion. The collective impact of the storm when counted in Jamaica, Haiti and Cuba will carry the original estimate far higher.
In the wake of Sandy it will take many months, perhaps years, based on the experiences of the past both in the Caribbean and in places such as New Orleans, before the impact can be fully assessed. A sobering reality is that the season does not officially end till November 30, and so the possibility exists of another storm or hurricane—or another lethal combination—developing across the Atlantic and sweeping into the region.
With the use of modern technology, planners and policymakers usually have 48 hours or more to put emergency measures in place to reduce the impact. But even beyond the immediate, the authorities have had years to outline and implement overall planning for the annual visits of the hurricanes.
In T&T the authorities have not seriously tackled issues such as building codes, the demarcation of areas where construction cannot take place, or the erection of sea walls that would at least slow down storm surges. Simple geography—its location in the deep south in the Caribbean archipelago—has so far protected T&T from a serious frontal blow; that is, at least over the last 30 years.
But one of the lessons from Sandy is that it was once unheard of that a tropical storm or hurricane of that size would reach the American east coast, especially so late in the season. In these times of unstable weather patterns and climate change, those traditional forecasts are being reversed and this country cannot settle into a relaxation mode, believing that hurricanes will always swing northwest on approaching T&T.
With no proper planning of infrastructure and emergency measures to counter anything resembling a Sandy, and without the resources of a United States to recover from such a calamitous event, T&T is both very vulnerable and living in a fool’s paradise.
As it is, Sandy is a disaster even for the Caribbean countries that were not directly in its path. Even without having been hit by the winds and rains of a category-one hurricane, this country and its Caricom partners throughout the region know, or should be aware, that the infrastructure damage done along the eastern seaboard—including the 50 homes burnt to cinders in Queens, a very West Indian part of New York—will affect T&T and the Caribbean, many hundreds of miles away.
This is one of the unwelcome consequences of globalisation: there will be domino effects on trade, energy prices, tourism, jobs, the fortunes of airlines, the amount of financial support that Caribbean emigrants are able to send home from the metropolis, and other unforeseen results.
Already, Caribbean tourism officials and hoteliers are announcing cancellations of visitor trips from the north. Senior Caribbean economist Prof Norman Girvan has projected “a downturn in the medium term from now until January and February.
I think the initial impact will possibly be as great as 9/11, but in terms of the long-term effects it is too early to tell.”
With the US and the world economy, including T&T yet to recover fully from the international recession of 2008, Sandy’s impact is likely to spread.
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