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Speech

Significant sections of the island were severely impacted by Tropical Storm Gustav between Thursday and Friday of last week. While Gustav was not at hurricane strength during its passage across Jamaica, its effect was pronounced because it moved so slowly across the island, with extended periods of heavy rainfall resulting in widespread flooding. Total rainfall recorded over the period August 27 -30, ranged between 12 inches in Mandeville and St. Elizabeth to over 19 inches in sections of the Corporate Area. Although wind speed was less than was experienced from Hurricanes Dean and Ivan, significant wind-related damage was done to buildings and crops, especially bananas, in eastern parishes where Gustav made its initial impact. A total of 12 persons are confirmed to have died in circumstances directly related to the effects of Tropical Storm Gustav. Reports, however, suggest that this number could be even higher. Our hearts go out to the families of those persons who died in these circumstances. I have instructed the Ministry of Labour and Social Security to make contact with each of these families and to be prepared to provide assistance with funeral expenses where this is necessary.
It is estimated that between 3,500 and 4,000 persons were temporarily displaced during the passage of the storm. Some 2,000 of those were housed in 100 shelters across the island. Currently, only 10 shelters remain open accommodating 248 persons whose houses were destroyed or extensively damaged.
It is too early to provide precise estimates of the value of the damage to roads, infrastructure, buildings, utility services, crops and livestock. Preliminary data suggest that over 200 houses were totally destroyed or damaged, extensive damage done to roads, drainage structures and river courses, as well as damage to agriculture especially banana cultivations.
Of 368 roads that were blocked, 298 have so far been cleared in some cases allowing single lane access. Work continues, to restore access on the remaining 70 roads but some will need extensive repairs to render them navigable. The collapse of the Harbour View Bridge has been given priority because of its arterial importance. A temporary Bailey Bridge for moderate weight vehicles as well as pedestrians has been erected and a fording across the Hope River is to be built, to accommodate heavy duty vehicles pending the construction of a new permanent structure. The bridge at Georgia in St. Mary also collapsed. The span of this bridge is too long to allow for the installation of a Bailey Bridge and therefore the alternate route through Belfield will have to be used until a new bridge can be constructed.
The Ministry of Labour and Social Security has already commenced the necessary field work to identify those families whose houses were destroyed or extensively damaged. Those are located primarily in Portland, St. Thomas and the eastern sections of St. Andrew. The Government will provide assistance to these persons in rebuilding or repairing their houses. In instances where the original site is considered dangerous or unsafe, efforts will be made to provide suitable lands on which these families can be relocated. This is particularly so in the case of those families whose houses were washed away by raging rivers.
The case of persons who have built houses along the banks of the Hope River demands particular attention. A number of houses along these river banks in Tavern and Kintyre, collapsed into the river resulting in the death of 4 persons. Several other houses remain precariously perched on the edge of the river, with sections of some houses suspended in mid-air with a sheer drop of more than 100 feet above the river. No building should ever have been allowed to be erected at such a location.
I have established a Task Force under the direction of the Minister of Transport and Works and including representatives of the NWA, Ministry of Water & Housing, KSAC, Water Resources Authority, National Land Agency and the Ministry of Labour and Social Security to undertake the following:
(1) Define a “no-build” boundary beyond which no construction of any building is to be allowed.
(2) Institute measures to monitor the area to prevent any further building activity
(3) Identify those persons currently occupying lands beyond the “no-build” line
(4) Identify alternative lands for the relocation of these persons starting with those whose buildings are in the greatest danger.
(5) Provide assistance toward and enforce the relocation of these persons.
Schools that were being used as shelters have been vacated and this will facilitate the reopening of school which has had to be rescheduled as a result of the Storm. Ten schools have suffered significant roof damage and emergency work will be carried out to effect repairs as quickly as possible. Six schools may be forced to delay reopening because of significant damage to or blockage of the roads leading to these schools.
Even where schools suffered no serious damage, considerable clean-up work has had to be done because of flooding and the pile up of debris. I wish to commend the Principals and Teachers for the gigantic efforts they have been making to have the schools ready for reopening.
Thirteen communities in St. Thomas, Portland, St. Andrew and St. Catherine remain marooned because of landslides and breakaways. Work continues to restore access. Where roads are blocked by landslides, these are being cleared. In instances where road sections have collapsed rendering the road impassable, corrective works will inevitably take more time but will be implemented as a matter of urgency. In the meanwhile, ODPEM has been airlifting food supplies to affected communities.
The damage to the banana industry is particularly distressing given the fact that the industry was just recovering from the devastation caused by Hurricane Dean and shipment of export fruit had started only two weeks ago.
Approximately 25,000 or 4% of the total number of JPSCo. Customers are still without electricity. The delay in completing the restoration is due more to the lack of access to where the fault is located because of damage to roads than to the severity of the fault. Work continues in collaboration with the National Works Agency and communities without electricity will be gradually restored leading to full restoration by the end of the week.
A number of water supply systems were disrupted or damaged by dislocation of pipelines, blocked intakes, turbidity. National Water Commission crews are working at full strength to carry out the necessary repairs. A number of systems remain non-functional until electricity is restored to the particular area or until work crews are able to gain access to the installations. Approximately 85% of water supply systems are currently in operation. The parish situation report is as follows:
CLARENDONOf the 43 water supply facilities, 4 systems are still affected.
ST. CATHERINEOf the 79 systems, 30 systems are still affected in some way (including several facilities connected to the Rio Cobre Pipeline).
ST. MARYOf the 34 facilities, 8 are still affected (including the Agualta Vale / Nutsfield Relift that has been vandalised and the cables stolen).
PORTLANDOf the 29 facilities, 4 are still affected.
ST. THOMASOf the 40 facilities, 16 facilities are still out of operation.
KINGSTON AND ST. ANDREWOf the 105 water supply facilities, 31 systems are still affected (mainly in rural St. Andrew)
MANCHESTEROf the 14 water supply facilities, 2 systems are still affected.
ST. ELIZABETHOf the 20 water supply facilities, 2 systems are still affected.
ST. ANNOf the 55 water supply systems, 4 systems are still affected.
TRELAWNYOf the 22 water supply facilities, 6 systems are still affected.
ST. JAMESOf the 49 water supply facilities, 15 systems are still affected.
HANOVER Of the 19 water supply facilities, 3 systems are still affected.
WESTMORELANDOf the 20 water supply facilities, 2 systems are still affected.
Estimates of the cost to repair the damage to roads, infrastructure, public buildings especially schools and health facilities, water and sewage systems and to provide assistance to persons whose houses have been damaged or destroyed should be completed within a week. The cost is expected to be significant and will pose challenges for the budgetary framework. These are challenges that must be met and appropriate adjustments will have to be made to meet these unforeseen obligations while preserving the integrity and credibility of the Government’s fiscal programme.
In times like this, we have always been able to count on the goodwill of friends both here and abroad. The Spanish Government through the Spanish Agency for International Development Corporation, has arranged for a shipment of 7 tons of relief supplies from its Logistic Humanitarian Centre in Panama. Despite the fact that she is off the island, the US Ambassador has contacted me indicating the anxiety of her Government to assist.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade and the PIOJ will coordinate the approaches that might be made and discussions that might be held with our bilateral and multilateral partners.
This morning, we launched a Disaster Recovery Fund with a contribution of $20 Million from Supreme Ventures Ltd. An appeal is being made to other private sector companies to support the effort. Jamaica National Building Society through its remittance arm JN Money Services and Grace Kennedy Remittance Services through Western Union have agreed to provide facilities to enable Jamaicans in the Diaspora to contribute to the Fund. It is proposed to dedicate the Fund to assist in the rebuilding of houses for persons whose houses were destroyed or extensively damaged.
The Ministry of Finance and the Public Service is in discussions with the relevant Ministries and Agencies, to ensure the timely provision of funds to meet the cost of the emergency works and relief measures that are being carried out. Further provisions await the submission and certification of detailed estimates.
As Members of Parliament are expected to be proactive especially in situations like this, I have instructed that each Member of Parliament should be permitted to utilise $2M of their CDF balances for relief/repair related expenditure. It is to be understood that this is not an additional provision but an advance from the undisbursed balances on each constituency’s account. This, of course, would be separate from the provision of $2M allowed for emergency/distress expenditure.
The Leader of the Opposition, has called for certain areas to be declared disaster areas. Such a declaration can only be made, where the Office of Disaster Preparedness, reports to the Minister, that conditions exist endangering public safety for the remedy of which no powers exist under any other law, or that powers are required which extend beyond even those provided by the Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management Act. The Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management has conveyed no such report to me.
Despite the damage that has been sustained, it must be noted that mitigation measures carried out earlier this year by the National Works Agency and the various Local Authorities, resulted in less damage being experienced than has been the case in the past. Given the large volume of rain dumped on the island by Gustav, it is rewarding to observe that many communities that would normally have been ravaged by flood waters, were able to withstand the onslaught with relatively minor dislocation. It is a lesson in the value of pre-emptive action that must not be ignored.
We must be mindful of the fact that we are only half way through the hurricane season. There may well be more hurricanes to come. We must therefore remain alert and prepared. Where drains have been blocked and river courses silted as a result of Gustav, we must move swiftly to have these cleared in preparation for the next one and this will be part of the initiatives to be pursued in parallel with the restoration work that is now required.
I wish to pay tribute to the emergency services – the ODPEM and its network of relief coordinators, the Meteorological Services, the Local Authorities, the NWA, our workers in the health services, the security forces, fire services, the utility services, the Cadet corps, the Ministry of Labour and Social Security and all the relevant agencies for their effort in managing this disaster. I also want to express gratitude to the voluntary organisations – Red Cross, Salvation Army, Food for the Poor – for again rising to the occasion and coming to the assistance of so many people during this crisis. Finally, to the thousands of Jamaicans who lent a hand, reached out to their neighbours, who demonstrated that when they are in distress, we are our brothers’ keepers, I express the gratitude of the Government and people of Jamaica.
Jamaica is no stranger to disasters of this kind. We have taken our blows before, we picked ourselves up and we kept on going. We have done it before. We will do it again.