Head of the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM), Richard Thompson, says Hurricane Gilbert served as a catalyst for Jamaica’s Disaster Risk Management Framework and how “we prepare for hurricanes as a country”.
September 12 marks 32 years since Hurricane Gilbert made landfall and caused extensive damage to road infrastructure, housing, hospitals, and industries – particularly the banana industry. where the entire crop of export bananas was wiped out.
Some 800,000 persons were also displaced and had to seek shelter. There were 45 deaths recorded.
“Given the level of damage and destruction and the number of deaths Gilbert caused, it would have been the catalyst to our Disaster Risk Management Framework and our planned development in-country. Our National Disaster Plan would have come about after Hurricane Gilbert and new standards of how we look about our housing stock and infrastructure,” Mr. Thompson said.
“So, Gilbert would have set the stage for an in-depth assessment into hazard risk reduction, disaster risk management and would have put us on the platform where we are today,” he told JIS News.
Hurricane Gilbert was the most intense hurricane of the 1988 North Atlantic Hurricane Season and was only surpassed by Hurricane Wilma in 2005. It was also the first hurricane to make landfall in Jamaica since Hurricane Charlie in 1951.
Mr. Thompson said its aftermath influenced the way many approach life in relation to meteorological events.
“It has changed the culture of our people, even though we still have persons who believe we won’t be impacted and refuse to move from those low-lying areas that are flooded on a regular basis. We see changes in how communities react to disasters,” he said.
“Persons are paying more attention to hurricanes and when we give the bulletins persons pay keen attention.
Persons are constructing better. Now persons are building more for practicality, given the region in which we are in.
A lot of houses back then did not have hurricane straps and now it is a mainstay in terms of housing construction,” Mr. Thompson added.
Hurricane Gilbert moved relatively quickly through the island from east to west as a Category 3 hurricane. with wind speeds ranging from 111 mph to 129 mph.