That was the warning to Vincentians from Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves on Wednesday on the eve of the Hurricane Season, which begins today — Thursday.
Forecasters are predicting 11 to 17 named storms this year, between four and seven of which are likely to become hurricanes. This could include three severe hurricanes — categories 3 to 5.
“Do not take the storms for granted. Natural disasters are not a joke. You have to be prepared,” Gonsalves said in his national address to mark the commencement of the Atlantic Hurricane Season.
The address was delivered at the Barbados-based Caribbean Institute for Meteorology and Hydrology’s annual Wet/Hurricane Season Caribbean Climate Outlook Forum held at Beachcombers Hotel.
“The season is upon us now. The government and NEMO (National Emergency Management Organisation) will do our best, but you, also, have to try to do your best,” Gonsalves said.
He said that homeowners might say that they don’t have the money to strengthen the foundations of their houses or to secure their roofs.
“And we will try to help, but there are things which you could do,” the prime minister said.
He said every household should have a family disaster preparation plan, adding that NEMO had sent them a few years ago to every household.
“You have a problem, contact NEMO. But, there are basic things. For instance, when the storm is coming, if you know you don’t have a house which is going to withstand the hurricane event, listen to the science, because we get 72-hour warnings, we get 48-hour warnings, we get 24-hour warnings, we get 12-hour warnings. And they are broadcast on all the radio station,” Gonsalves said.
The prime minister said the shelters will be open and urged people to use them.
He also warned persons to stay inside during the passage of storms.
“I know sometimes it is difficult for the women to hold the young boys and girls, the teenagers, they want to go out and play in the rain and jump up … and so on, because when you are young like that, you think you are invincible and it is a lot of fun. But it is not a lot of fun; there is danger. Prepare ourselves in every way and listen to advice.”
During the last hurricane season, a teenaged boy died in Layou when a stone that came lose crushed him outside his house after he disobeyed his mother’s instructions not to go outside during the passage of a trough system.
In a separate incident in Campden Park, a young boy died after he and his brother were washed out to sea by a stream near their house as they played outside during the passage of a trough system.
Gonsalves said that sometimes the forecasters’ prediction might prove to “false”, in that the weather system may change course.
“It’s not an exact science but it is a sound science and when the worse doesn’t happen, we should feel happy and don’t curse the messenger,” the prime minister said.
“Because there are times when I say we are closing the city, I’d wait until 8 o’clock in the night, I’d say tomorrow morning, schools will be closed, public servants must not come in to work — only emergency [workers]. And the morning will come and it is bright and sunny and there’s no problem,” Gonsalves said.
He said he would try as early as I possibly to cancel any such decision of the weather system changes.
“I will get criticised for that but I don’t mind being criticised for being careful because we have to protect lives.”
Gonsalves said he knows what it is like to lose a family member to a disaster, noting that a landslide killed one of his cousins during the December 2013 severe weather.
“I know the pain and the anguish. I prefer to be safe than to be sorry and I am relying on you to give me the best science possible,” he told the forecasters.