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by Bevol Henson
Jamaica Independence Article/ Story Contest - Entry #17 - AFTER THE FLOOD RAINS, AN OLIVE BRANCH!
The book of Genesis tells the story of Noah sending forth a dove from the Ark and that the dove, after flying many sorties, returned to him with an olive leaf between its beak. This, as the story goes, was cause for great joy and relief as it was proof that the flood waters had abated off the earth. (Genesis, Chapter 8)
As I reflect on Jamaica's journey over the last 60 years, I am reminded that a similar situation as experienced by Noah took place in Jamaica. This played out after the island was severely affected by a stationary front which dumped tons of rainfall across much of the central Caribbean for two, continuous weeks.
As the records at the Met Office will attest, over the period 24th May to 6th June, 1986 the weather system produced heavy, persistent rainfall which caused severe, island-wide flooding in Jamaica and also in the neighboring islands of Cuba and Hispaniola.
The system gradually moved to the north and became Tropical Storm Andrew before it dissipated on the 8th of June, 1986. In its aftermath, some 40,000 Jamaicans were affected, 2,000 persons were accommodated in emergency shelters and 50 persons perished, to speak nothing of the immense damage to livestock, homes and businesses, assets, public infrastructure, crops and agricultural lands with total property damage amounting to US$25 million at 1986 values.
Without a doubt, this was a major, national disaster and an event not to be forgotten - even if only to galvanize us to continue developing our national awareness and resilience to severe weather events.
As a serving member of the Jamaica Defence Force at the time of the 1986 floods, I vividly recall the grim happenings, the devastating impacts and the military responses to it.
My recollection of the event runs thus:
Alas, in the latter days, the heavens opened up again and the rain fell for 13 days and 13 nights upon the land. And it came to pass that in the eleventh hour of the thirteenth day, contrary to the Forrester's forecasts, the rains finally came to an end. But the people of Jamaica breathed not a sigh of relief as the waters were not abated from off the earth and many new islands appeared upon the face of the land.
Verily, verily I say unto you, it is recorded that many of these new islands were barren and man-made. The barrenness of these islands was beyond dispute for nowhere has it ever been proved that concrete and corrugated steel (rooftops!) can be tilled and cultivated.
For days the new islanders longed with all their hearts to be returned to the mainland. But, alas, the flood waters stood still round about them; the rivers were in spate; landslides abounded; bridges were down and for many days, the stricken dwellings of man became likened unto the dwellings of fishes.
Yea, as the days dragged on, the people became sorely troubled and they longed for a sign of relief. Yea, even for an olive leaf.
And it came to pass that their supplications were heard and unto them was sent not just a leaf, but an entire olive branch.
Charged by the Defence Act to give assistance to the civil population in the event of natural disaster, the JDF quickly deployed troops to all the stricken areas to assist those affected. Thus began 'OPERATION OLIVE BRANCH' which was conceived by the military high command as a massive rescue and relief mission.
Borrowing the symbolism of the olive leaf from the Biblical experiences of Noah and the Ark, like the dove in that story the JDF was taking not just a leaf, but an entire olive branch as a sign of relief from the floods.
Coordinated from the Logistics Control Centre (LCC) in Up Park Camp, the operation saw the employment of British troops and sailors deployed alongside members of the JDF throughout the affected areas.
The British personnel were in the island at the request of the Government of Jamaica for international assistance. In response to this appeal, the British Government re-directed aircraft and ships from other duties in the Caribbean to assist the JDF.
The British Government committed close to 350 persons to the mission. Together, they manned and operated two RAF Puma helicopters, a Wasp helicopter, a frigate (HMS ARIADNE) and a support and supply vessel from the Royal Fleet Auxiliary (the GOLD ROVER). From berths at the south coast ports of Rocky Point and Port Esquivel, crew members from the vessels were engaged in relief operations in southern Clarendon which was drenched with some 50 inches of rainfall during the two-week deluge.
Even the ship's doctor and his team of Royal Navy Medical Orderlies were committed to the task as they gave assistance to the JDF doctors and Ministry of Health personnel in rendering medical aid to the affected persons.
The RAF helicopters were pulled from the British Garrison in Belize and flown to Up Park Camp to augment the lift capability of the JDF Air Wing. The Wasp helicopter was particularly useful in completing liaison flights between ship, shore and forward operational bases.
In tandem with the JDF Air Wing, the speedy delivery of heliborne supplies and the ability of helicopters to reach into the remotest of areas, went a far way to getting much needed supplies to the affected areas with the minimum of delay.
All the air assets were heavily tasked in moving relief supplies and personnel to the many, many areas that were not accessible by road. In the rare cases where access was possible by road, the state of the road surfaces was so bad that it made the air-lifting of supplies and personnel the preferred alternative.
The JDF Coast Guard took relief supplies, medicines and a military doctor to the people of Jackson Bay and Rocky Point who were marooned by flood waters which made all land approaches impossible.
Stationed in Moneague, the members of the 2nd Battalion the Jamaica Regiment (2JR), braved the flood waters with rigid-hull dinghies and their V-150 amphibious vehicles to reach the many persons who were stranded on tiny islands and on rooftops in the Pedro River and Macknie areas of St. Ann.
Back in southern Clarendon, the 1st Battalion the Jamaica Regiment (1JR) was just as equal to the task. The Unitas V-150s became virtual ferry boats retrieving and moving marooned persons and animals to safety. The winch capability of the V-150s was also used to recover motor vehicles from the Rio Minho where a major bridge was damaged on the May Pen by-pass road.
With the eventual withdrawl of 1JR from the operations in Clarendon, the mission was passed on to the members of the 3rd Battalion the Jamaica Regiment (National Reserves) 3JR (NR) as they too played their part in the bearing of the OLIVE BRANCH.
Throughout the operation, the Support & Services Battalion (SSB), provided transport, equipment and a host of other logistic back-up. Members of the Battalion manned the Air Jamaica Cargo Area at the Norman Manley International Airport which was loaned to the JDF to facilitate an airport depot.
Cargo 10 became the central stores for the stockpiling and subsequent dispatch of aid and relief supplies which flooded in from the international community. From this logistics hub and another at the Central Food Store, Ministry of Labour & Social Security, supplies were constantly moved out by SSB personnel to the affected areas.
As the flood waters receded and the potential for mosquito infestation and vector-borne diseases loomed, SSB personnel spearheaded the task of moving hundreds of gallons of oil from the PETROJAM Refinery to the various Public Health Departments for use in their vector control programmes.
Personnel from the JDF Engineering Unit and the JDF Construction Squadron were deployed island wide wherever their skills were needed. In particular, they contributed significantly to the rehabilitation of the persons left homeless and assisted the Ministry of Housing in the construction of relief houses for the indigent in Rocky Point and general house repairs in the hard hit areas of southern Clarendon.
The work of the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM), the Red Cross and numerous other relief organizations all contributed to the success of the operation.
OPERATION OLIVE BRANCH is now history, recorded history. It is hoped that the diligent work carried out by the JDF, the British service personnel, the many other individuals and organizations that participated, along with the outpouring of support received from the international community, will be long remembered. In the discharge of their duties, they all displayed the time honoured tradition of Service before Self.
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