It is easy to forget that the Cayman Islands weren’t the only place ravaged by Hurricane Ivan in September 2004. In fact, Cayman wasn’t even the first place to feel the brunt of Ivan the Terrible.
On 7 September, four days before tropical storm force winds were first felt on Grand Cayman, the island of Granada was taking a direct hit from Ivan.
Although not as strong or large as when it passed Grand Cayman, Ivan was still a major Category 3 hurricane packing 120 mph winds when the eye passed over Grenada. The storm killed 39 people and damaged or destroyed 90 per cent of the Spice Isle’s homes, causing an estimated US$1.1 billion of damage.
Benedict Peters, the national disaster coordinator for Grenada’s National Disaster Management Agency, spoke about the lessons his country learned from the Hurricane Ivan experience during the National Hurricane Conference in Orlando, Florida earlier this year.
Grenada, Peters explained, lies on the southern edge of the Atlantic Basin hurricane belt, in what is considered “the 2 per cent zone”.
Like the Cayman Islands, it had been a long time since a hurricane had significantly impacted Grenada. Grenadians had to think back almost 50 years, to 1955 and Category 3 Hurricane Janet, to recall a major storm.
Like the Cayman Islands. Grenada was not prepared for Hurricane Ivan in September 2004, and like Cayman, Grenada learned many lessons from the harrowing experience. Peters, who joined the National Disaster Management Agency in 2009, wants to make sure they don’t forget those lessons, and that the people of Grenada act on them.
As Grenada learned, in an active hurricane era, being in the ‘2 per cent zone’ in no guarantee tropical cyclones will steer clear. Grenadians were reminded of this again less than one year after Ivan, when Category 2 Hurricane Emily passed close by, causing additional damage – although nothing quite as bad as Ivan.
Although it could be a long time before Grenada is impacted again by a hurricane, Peters wants his country to be ready if it happens.
“We need to keep future generations informed of previous disasters,” he said. “We don’t want to let the experiences of Hurricane Ivan die; we have to find a way to keep it alive.”
Peters noted that in the 50 years after Hurricane Janet, people tended to forget the lessons learned.
“After Janet, houses were built to withstand certain kinds of conditions, but after some time, people wanted to build houses that looked good,” he said.
Roofs were a primary example of compromises in strength made for aesthetic purposes, Peters noted.
Ivan, however, reminded people of the risks of hurricanes.
“The roofs built after Ivan very much resemble roofs built after Janet,” he said.
An important goal of Grenada’s National Disaster Management Agency is make sure the country’s residents are aware of hurricane risks and that they prepare accordingly, Peters said.
“We want a national population who understands and participates in risk reduction processes,” he said.
Weighing the risks
Hurricane Ivan caused 200 per cent of Grenada’s GDP in damage. More than five years later, there are still government buildings, including the Parliament Building and the Governor General’s Residence, that haven’t been restored.
“One event can wipe out a small island economy,” he said.
Grenada learned that hurricanes posed further risks beyond wind, waves and flooding. A wild looting spree ensued after Ivan, costing businesses million of dollars.
“It’s important to know the hazards, know your vulnerability to those hazards, and what to do to reduce the vulnerability,” Peters said.
One thing the Grenada government learned was that some of its population living near a section of its coastline was vulnerable to storm surge flooding. As a result, there is an ongoing effort to relocate these people to higher ground, Peters said.
When it comes to development and building codes, Peters said the government is trying to take mitigating measures “to avoid problems that could cost government at the end of the day”.
The government also has recognised the need to establish a national disaster fund to assist not only Grenada if another hurricane hits, but other impacted countries in the region. Peters said Grenada needed to be prepared to help others “to be better prepared to help ourselves”.
“The psychological impact is great to have people thinking that way.”
Teaching the children
Peters believes hurricane preparedness needs to become part of the national consciousness, but in order to do that, there must be continuity in education.
“Disaster management must be taught in schools, building a culture of safety,” he said. “When [school leavers] enter the work environment, disaster management will be more easily accepted.”
To attract children to the subject of disaster management, Peters said Grenada is planning various fun learning activities and give-aways of things for answering questions on the subject.
There is also a plan to engage the adult population with activities that will enhance hurricane risk recognition and preparedness.
“People must be aware that they have a role in disaster management,” he said.
Although the memories of Hurricane Ivan are still fresh in the minds of Grenadians, just like they are for Caymanians, Peters knows it is important to act in implementing the “culture of safety” now. He realises that lessons learned are necessarily lessons acted on.
“But you have knowledge,” he said.