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by Sheree-Anita Shearer | Associate Writer
Jamaica has been more than blessed to have not had a major hurricane or even the threat of such in years. But that doesn’t mean we are always spared, this still is the Caribbean after all. What have been the worst hurricanes in Jamaica's History?
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Jamaica’s hurricane season lasts five months, from June 1st to November 30th. Throughout this season, Hurricanes are the biggest worry, but there are other factors to consider such as heavy rains, flooding and tropical storms. There is no denying which is worst though.
This is my first recollection of a hurricane and I think I was as concerned as any young child could have been. I couldn’t see much of what was going on outside due to the windows and doors being battened down and sealed off.
But the sights after were nothing like I had ever seen before. Ivan was a Category 4 Hurricane when it landed in Jamaica and the most devastating in 16 years.
The hurricane hit the island on the 10th of September 2004 and lasted until the 11th when it became a Category 5 hurricane.
Winds of up to 340 km/h were recorded as Ivan made its way across Jamaica. The eastern and southern parishes were the most affected with waves between 8 and 20 feet recorded in St. Thomas and Westmoreland.
In addition to the storm and its direct damage, there were other disasters as a result of Ivan. Flooding, landslides and collapsed structures cost 17 lives on the island. Many people had to brave the weather to seek refuge at the storm shelters across the island.
Even after the Hurricane had moved to pass Jamaica and continued its destructive path through the Greater Antilles and to the United States, it would take weeks for Jamaica to return to normalcy, some schools could not be reopened even after a month because of damages but more so because they were acting as shelters for those whose homes had been destroyed in the natural disaster.
Some communities were inaccessible due to the major damage to the roads that had suffered due to the heavy rains. One part of the major thoroughfare on the North-South Highway washed away and had to be replaced.
On August 29th 2008 Tropical Storm Gustav, much to the dismay of Jamaican citizens. This also resulted in major flooding and landslides.
Although Gustav was a tropical storm when it made its landfall here, it caused the collapse of two important bridges, including the Hope River Bridge which links our capital city, Kingston, with some of its surrounding areas. In Jamaica, total damages were estimated at $210million (2008USD).
Nicole though not a hurricane, Tropical Storm Nicole did leave considerable damage and caused the loss of 13 lives on the island on September 29th, 2010. The heavy rains associated with the tropical storm resulted in islandwide flooding with many communities inaccessible by the end of the storm.
Now for the most devastating and memorable Hurricane in Jamaica’s modern history. If this Gilbert was a person, he would be infamous around the world. This hurricane has been the topic of conversation, songs and plays and used as a measurement of time as well as dates and times are remembered due to its proximity to “Wild Gilbert”.
Also, I must say, this Gilbert is one of the most Jamaican names a hurricane could possibly have. The hurricane lasted approximately 10 to 12 hours and since it traversed the entire island there was much damage to infrastructure and loss of life on the island.
If you listen to the way Gilbert was expected to be, you would understand that one of the biggest reasons Jamaica was so affected by the hurricane is that many were vastly unprepared.
For some, it was their first time experiencing a hurricane; it was 37 years prior that a hurricane had made landfall here. Gilbert is also one of the reasons most Jamaicans began to take hurricane warnings seriously.
At the time, 45% of our agricultural production was impacted with bananas almost totally devastated. Tourism was severely impacted. Hundreds were left homeless and had to stay in shelters, entire communities were marooned due to flooding or landslides and more significantly 45 lives were lost here in Jamaica.
Electricity and telephone and even broadcast services for radio and television were negatively impacted. Other infrastructure such as hospitals (95% damaged, 2 destroyed), schools and businesses, and hotels small and large spent months in repair and recovery mode after Gilbert left Jamaica.
All this and more along with with an estimated price tag of $ 4 million US dollars in damages at 1998 values. These are just a few of the reasons Hurricane Gilbert is one of, if not the worst Hurricanes to have hit ever Jamaica.
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