Central America and Caribbean Defenseless, Facing Tropical Storms, Hurricanes and COVID Pandemic
June 9, 2020 (EIRNS)—The Caribbean region and much of Central America have never recovered from the hurricanes that hit in 2017-2018. Puerto Rico suffered a double whammy, with two back-to-back Category 5 hurricanes that flattened the island in 2017 and a 6.4 earthquake in January of this year which wiped out its electricity grid (again)—yet to be rebuilt. Add to this the coronavirus pandemic which has sapped resources from a region entirely dependent on tourism and remittances.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is forecasting between 13 and 19 hurricanes during the season that began June 1. This past weekend, tropical storms Amanda and Cristobal slammed Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua, leaving thousands of displaced, scores of dead and missing, houses destroyed and mass flooding in their wake.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency is revising its guidelines for emergency preparedness, to ensure that shelters practice social distancing, have protective gear, hand sanitizers, etc. “We can’t put as many people into a shelter (with social distancing), which means we must have many more shelters available,” St. Lucia’s Prime Minister Allen Chastanet told Reuters. In the Bahamas, which never recovered from Hurricane Dorian’s destruction last September, there is still no running water or power in some parts of the islands. “It’s crazy,” says Bahamian Minister for Disaster Preparedness, Management and Reconstruction. “No one could have imagined this.”
A business consultant quoted by Reuters on Great Abaco Island in the Bahamas warns, “we are still in no position to be ready for another hurricane. Many people are walking around here now with post-traumatic stress disorder.”
In Puerto Rico, as a result of the two 2017 hurricanes, at least 20,000 people still live in homes with no permanent roofs, but rather with blue tarps provided as “temporary” roofs by FEMA. On the southern part of the island, AP reports, schools can’t be used as shelters, as they were permanently shuttered after last January’s earthquake damage. Reconstruction of the power grid hasn’t started, according to an official at Puerto Rico’s Electric Power Authority, who estimates this could take 10 to 20 years. Add to this a drought that has hit the island recently, destroying crops and making food rationing a possibility.