Cayman needs wetland protection, says HMCI

| 11/09/2015 | 8 Comments
Cayman News Service

A home destroyed by Hurricane Ivan in 2004

(CNS): On the anniversary of the devastating impact of Hurricane Ivan in 2004, officials said that one of the most important lessons Ivan taught was that it only takes one storm to cause significant damage. However, even with major improvements in the country’s resilience, hazard management experts have pointed out that the country still needs to improve wetland protection, as it has been demonstrated that they place a significant role in storm protection.

“Coastal wetlands are proven to help mitigate storm surge, and add numerous other ecological services including strengthening coastlines from erosion and increasing biodiversity,” said a spokesperson for Hazard Management Cayman Islands. “Currently there is very little protection for the majority of Cayman’s wetland areas, and no talk on wetland restoration in areas that have been damaged, filled or developed.”

As the Cayman Islands faces the peak of hurricane season, although the islands are much better prepared today to weather a full scale storm, local experts warned against complacency.

The recovery process following Ivan on 11-12 September 2004 led to many increases in local capacity.

“The island took advantage of the opportunity to rebuild by creating stronger, smarter, infrastructure to reduce the chance of being damaged so badly again,” HMCI said. “Cayman has successfully reduced its vulnerability … and is now much more prepared to handle another Ivan-like event.”

Since Ivan, Cayman has increased building codes, required new government buildings to be built to withstand category 4 or 5 storms, increased shelter space and improved standby power and improved its ability to forecast hurricanes and issue warnings with the installation of Doppler radar.

CUC now uses concrete poles, which are more resilient, while the Water Authority has created a looped water supply system and increased resilience and dependability. Roads have been fortified with seawalls and constructed inland away from vulnerable coastal areas. Many businesses and all government agencies have developed hurricane plans to aid in the preparation and recovery after an event and government provides training for a wide cross-section of the community.

The Community Emergency Response Teams, or CERT programme, is a collaborative programme put on by the Cayman Islands Red Cross and HMCI to improve the strength and resilience of local communities.

Despite the increased resilience and preparedness, people should beware of “false confidence … as there is always more that needs to be done to prepare ourselves for another Ivan sized event,” HMCI stated.

HMCI said everyone should regularly update business and personal hurricane plans, create communication plans, and improve the capacity to help the elderly and persons with disabilities, as many were left without proper care or aid during the weeks following Ivan.

“Cayman needs to develop and refine its search and rescue plan,” the experts said, adding that there was room to improve Cayman’s storm water management and shelter capacity, which is at around 90% of the population. There is also a need for pet shelters because no public shelters allow animals.

As well as additional improvements in planning and building requirements, the hazard experts also said Cayman should review its minimum elevations and coastal setbacks to determine if they are effective enough and make the necessary policy changes and consider additional protection for coastal wetlands.

One of the most devastating storms to ever strike the Cayman Islands, the eye of Hurricane Ivan passed just 21 miles SW of Grand Cayman. With 8-10 foot storm surge, 150 mph sustained winds, and gusts of 220 mph, making it a Category 4 hurricane, Ivan destroyed the island. In 36 hours Ivan damaged 70% (9,475) of Grand Cayman’s residential dwellings, with 4% of homes needing complete reconstruction. It reduced accommodation capacity from just over 3,200 hotel rooms, rental condos and guest houses to less than 500 and some $429 million dollars’ worth of damage was done to commercial infrastructure.

CUC had substantial damage to power lines, distribution grids, and the submarine cable in the North Sound, while Consolidated Water lost the Britannia desalination plant, reducing the islands fresh water capacity by 8%, in addition to having severe damage to their headquarters. The Water Authority had to replace 2 km of water lines after they were exposed from storm surge. The natural devastation to the landscape was enormous and some 90-95% of all local crops were destroyed, such as avocados, bananas, mangoes, and pumpkins.

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Comments (8)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Meteorological archive on Ivan’s intensity shows it at Cat 5 intensity on September 11th and again late on September 12th & September 13th. While it may have dipped in intensity and wind speed in the time frame of the eye-wall passage to our south ( just by wind speed), it is arguable the storm intensity was at Category 5 level during the time Grand Cayman was under its effects , purely on storm surge & wind gusts, even if barometric pressure was slightly above 910 MB

    Wikipedia also refers to this intensity during the storms passage ( of G.Cayman ) in its hurricane archive article on the storm.

    • Anonymous says:

      Surely you are not suggesting wikipedia as a source of accurate information? ivan was a 5 before and a 5 after but at its closest point it was a 4.

  2. Sam says:

    Well, good that this thought finally crossed someone’s mind,11 years after Ivan and 10 years after Katrina. Better later than never. On island’s time.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Water Authority’s looped system worked very well after Ivan. They shut the whole system down when they could have just isolated the leaking sections. Then again they are too cheap to install enough valves to facilitate this.

  4. Anonymous says:

    The backed up septic tank in my neighbor’s yard is making wetland in my backyard. Now ducks are swimming in it.

    The Authorities told me there’s nothing I can do as it’s now protected.

  5. Anonymous says:

    A new cruise port will stop any hurricanes from hitting Cayman, we will be safe.

    Another reason to built it, to go with the thousands of jobs it will create and the billions a dollars it will produce for every Caymanian

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