Sunday, August 19, 2007

Dean at the Door

Back in 1979, the Nation newspaper of Barbados had a headline, with an associated vivid front page satellite photo: David at the Door.

David went on to side-swipe Barbados, and gave Dominica a heavy, devastating, direct hit.

This morning, Dean is at Jamaica's door, and Accuweather forecasts that it is likely to closely side-swipe Jamaica's south coast. While that is better by far than a direct hit, it must be recognised that Dean has rapidly strengthened to Category 4 (which it apparently still holds as at 2 AM EDT, with (a) 145 mph winds, (b) lack of upper atmospheric wind shear and (c)surface water at 84 - 85 degrees Fahrenheit -- all favourable to strengthening or sustaining the current strength) and that even a side swipe of such a dangerous hurricane is potentially devastating if not utterly catastrophic.

Accuweather also adds:

Dean is being steered by a persistent mid to upper level ridge of high pressure to its north and this pattern should continue through early next week. An upper trough of low pressure shifted west across Florida Saturday morning and it continues to move quickly to the west toward the central Gulf of Mexico. This is allowing that persistent ridge of high pressure to also shift west and maintain itself to the north of Dean, so a track more to the west-northwest is favored through the weekend and early next week. This will bring Dean just to the south of Jamaica later Sunday and to the south of the Cayman Islands early Monday. It will then move across the Yucatan peninsula later Monday night into Tuesday. Latest Global models are trending south and that is supported by the strong upper level ridge that should maintain itself to the north of Dean. This would favor another landfall farther south into Mexico midweek which would be better news for the U.S.

Dean's central pressure dropped over 9 millibars Saturday evening and hurricane hunter aircraft found a double eye-wall structure so there is some indication of eye-wall replacement and that the winds could strengthen overnight possibly causing Dean to reach CAT 5 strength on Sunday. It is looking more and more likely that Dean will cause torrential and flooding rainfall, damaging and catastrophic winds, coastal flooding, and serious mudslides to the Island of Jamaica Sunday afternoon into Sunday night. Its interaction with Jamaica will disrupt the intensification process slightly, but by Monday, the hurricane will be over very warm water in the northwest Caribbean. Satellite and ocean sensors suggest the water over the western Caribbean is the warmest in the entire Atlantic Basin. The warm water is very deep, providing a lot of potential energy for Dean.
This is indeed truly one for prayer and also for organising support and relief from now. (It is also not without relevance to note that this disaster threat comes just over a week before a scheduled General Election August 27, which has potential to be of major, generational significance for government under God in Jamaica. A run-up that, sadly, has been marred by violence.)

Here in Montserrat, we were on the fringes of the storm-force effects on Friday, in a week where I confess I was busy on several major local and blog visit issues, leading to a week's pause on the blog.

To briefly summarise, we had minor damage consistent with my personal estimate that we saw gusts to 40 - 50 mph; e.g the house where we live in a downstairs apartment lost several asphalt shingles, and due to power poles going down and the like, we (as was true for many others) were without power for much of the day.

Farmers of course took losses, and we have yet to see the full reaction of the 208 million cubic metre volcanic dome that has been sitting there since April, to the rain that accompanied the storm. (BTW, we should note that over the past three weeks or so, evidence has emerged that points to a recharging magma chamber some 4 miles under the mountain, with an upsurge in sulphur dioxide emissions to at times over 3,000 tone per day [about 10 - 20 times what has been the usual case in recent months] and stretching of GPS survey lines indicative of a straining of the earth due to fresh magma in the chamber.)

The Rev'd Dr. Gerry Seale of the Evangelical Association of the Caribbean has compiled and circulated some important information on what Dean has already done, and what it may do. I take liberty to cite his newsletter, circulated Saturday morning:

Barbados: Relatively little damage with a few trees and utility poles across the road. These have already been dealt with and businesses re-opened yesterday, Friday.

St. Vincent: Relatively little damage with some coastal damage in the north of the island.

St. Lucia: Houses in the north of the island damaged. The roof of the pediatric ward of the hospital blown off, but patients were relocated prior to the roof coming off. Some coastal damage. One man lost his life while trying to save a cow being swept away by a swollen river. No reports yet of church buildings damaged.

Martinique: Pastor Jean-Marc Montout has reported “Numerous roofs are blown away, most of the trees are on the ground, and there is no water and no electricity. Of course the plantations (banana and sugar cane) are down.” There is a report of one person dying of a heart-attack during the hurricane but it is not as yet known if this was hurricane-related. I do not yet have specifics of any damage to church properties. Martinique , a French Department, was the worst affected among our group of islands.

Dominica: A number of homes were damaged. About 1,000 people were housed in some 100 shelters during the hurricane. Two persons lost their lives—an adult and a child—when a mud slide covered the house where they were sleeping. There is extensive damage to banana crops, the main agricultural product in Dominica . I have received a report of the roof of a church building in Battica having been blown off—this is a small pioneer congregation.

He adds the following very important urgent prayer requests and comments:

Hurricane Dean is strengthening and is on a course to pass over Jamaica , the Cayman Islands and the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico. Preparations are under way in all these places but there is not much that can be done in the face of a major category 5 hurricane (super typhoon). Please pray for God’s sovereign grace in each of these countries to protect our people.

Jamaica: In the last couple of years Jamaica faced two major hurricanes, including Hurricane Ivan. On both occasions the hurricanes were travelling straight at Jamaica and as God’s people interceded the hurricanes changed course and went around the island—one to the left and the other to the right. Let us petition God to do it again.

Cayman Islands: Hurricane Ivan devastated this small island community and they are still working to recover. Another battering by a major hurricane is almost unthinkable. Let us pray that God would graciously spare our people in the Caymans on this occasion.

Yucatan Peninsula : This part of Mexico is struck regularly by hurricanes, including several major hurricanes in recent years. While I do not have a lot of information on this peninsula I know that damage and death has been visited here by these hurricanes. Let us cover them in prayer for God’s protection.

Cuba: A northward turn and Dean will slam into Cuba . Cuba has the largest population of any island in the Caribbean—there are more people living in Cuba that in the whole English-speaking Caribbean . Let us watch and pray.

Haiti: Dean is not expected to hit Haiti head on. However, the hurricane is so large that the edges of the storm will pass over Haiti . Torrential rain will result in severe flooding and loss of hundreds of lives. Let us intercede for our Haitian people.

Gulf of Mexico: It is difficult to say where Dean will go after it crosses the Yucatan Peninsula and enters the Gulf of Mexico . It could turn left and hit Mexico , go straight on up into Texas or veer right and head for the Mississippi/Louisiana/Alabama coast. We pray.

The only thing that might at this stage reduce the effect of Hurricane Dean is if the winds in the upper atmosphere increase and take the top off Dean. The forecast is for these winds to remain very low and for a high pressure ridge to keep pushing Dean along to the West. Our God is able. Let’s talk to Him.

I am in touch with World Relief Corporation in the USA and we will be looking at ways in which we can respond in the days ahead. Pray for generous donors so we can be a real help to the most vulnerable and needy.

Pleas pass this prayer request on during the next 24 hours (10:00 a.m. August 18 to 10:00 a.m. August 19) so as to generate much prayer.

Let us pray, and let us act.

May God help us to understand, too, that we must adapt to the challenges in our environment, and should so far as we are able avoid putting ourselves in the path of unnecessary hazards, e.g. we should not denude hillsides [planting Vetiver or "Khus Khus" grass helps], we should not settle in flood plains or mangrove swamps [e.g. Portmore, Jamaica], and we must seek ways to help our poor to find a way that does not force them to settle and make their living in ways that worsen the dangers they face from potential natural disasters.

So, let us move our ways of life and development approaches to those that are more sustainable in light of the forces and challenges in our environment. END

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