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The Mayors of both Spanish Town and Portmore have given residents of St. Catherine the assurance that all necessary infrastructure are in place, in the event of an earthquake striking the parish.
This comes against the background of local geologists stating that should an earthquake, the magnitude of the January 12 tremor in Haiti, strike Jamaica, Spanish Town, Portmore and Kingston would be most vulnerable.
Spanish Town and Portmore were identified recently by Research Fellow and Head of the Earthquake Unit at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, Dr. Lyndon Brown, as being among the most vulnerable areas.
Dr. Brown’s claim was supported by Director General at the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM), Ronald Jackson, who said many major settlements in Jamaica are vulnerable to ground acceleration that could occur in Spanish Town, Portmore and Kingston, due to the high-density populated areas.
The St Catherine Mayors, however, are assuring that although no one can be 100 per cent ready, they are as ready as can be. They said that they have staff trained at the Emergency Response Centre and have been performing drills and holding refresher courses.
“We have our disaster coordinators, our shelters, if they are still up, would be there as prepared and our evacuation routes are already well defined,” Portmore’s Mayor, Keith Hinds said.
He added that should an earthquake occur and the escape roads are impacted, he could look at other escape routes.
“One of the things I would look to is our sea shores. That would be one of the areas I would have to look at in trying to see how best I could move people out,” he noted.
Spanish Town’s Mayor, Dr. Andrew Wheatley, admitted that if an earthquake occurs during the hurricane season resources would be stretched, as funds are being taken up doing emergency work including clearing landslides, blocked roads and drains.
“We have to be doing a lot of shifting (of funds) and seeking additional funds from central government, because we had expended all that was budgeted for emergency work. It has caused us to be doing new estimates and extend the scope of works,” he noted.
The Mayors noted, however, that back-up systems were in place to address any situation where communication and transport systems are disrupted, with the support of the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) and the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM). They consider the sustainability of those systems the only hurdle, but noted that these were emergency measures and long-term measures would have to be worked out after the emergency measures have been implemented.
Both Mayors maintain that the bottom line is, “we are prepared if an earthquake should occur”.