|Hurricane Tomas swept across St. Lucia and Costa Rica leaving 57 people dead last year. [Gallo/Getty]
With the start of the 2011 Atlantic Hurricane season, several Caribbean countries are looking at how they can be better prepared at the onset. The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicts an above average number of storms this year. Out of the 12 to 18 named tropical storms forecasted, it is expected that 6 to 10 could become hurricanes.
NOAA is also forecasting that there is a 61 per cent chance that a major hurricane will make landfall somewhere on a Caribbean coastline.
In comparison to the lesser number of storms in 2010, we saw hundreds dead across the region from flooding and landslides; the worse from Hurricane Tomas that battered St. Lucia and then swamped Costa Rica leaving 57 people dead.
Cuba’s meteorologists are referring to this active cycle of storms as the “return period” in which a certain category of hurricanes can be expected to hit a given location.
Experts say that a major hurricane slamming into Cuba’s capital, Havana, is expected to happen about every 50 years. The last storm of this intensity hit in 1944. This means that the city of 2.2 million people is about 17 years overdue.
Cuba is taking a very proactive approach this year to being prepared, with civil workers clearing street drains and checking power lines, while encouraging residents to make sure their roofs are secure and trees pruned.
In Haiti there is a more controversial measure taking place.
The mayor of a large city in the Haitian capital region has given the order to police and security personnel to begin clearing out refugee camps setup after last year’s earthquake.
They are evicting hundreds of people at the onset of heavy rains and the start of hurricane season saying that it is too dangerous to live there with the potential of storms coming.
Residents say that this is not true and officials are using this as an excuse to reclaim public facilities and space back again. The homeless are concerned that they being put out into the streets and not given any alternative place to live.
Haiti is particularly vulnerable to flooding and landslides because much of the country has been stripped of trees many people are living in cheaper, less wanted land in flood prone areas.
A direct hit by even a weak lingering tropical depression could be catastrophic to a country which has few natural defenses and a population of many living under tarps.
The Caribbean is already primed for a change into the tropical season.
Moisture and heavy thunderstorms have already increased between Central America and Jamaica in the past few days. Computer forecast models predict that an area of low pressure could form in the region by Thursday.