Marko Kokic in Kingston, Jamaica
“I knew my house was going to wash away,” explains Crystal Clarke holding her baby boy, Brandon, “that’s why I chose to go to the shelter with my family”. She and her entire family left Portmore to wait out the storm at the National Arena in Kingston where approximately a thousand other people did the same.
Like many of the poorer residents of Kingston, Crystal’s home is composed of a few boards of wood and some zinc sheets for roofing. It is the poor who cannot afford proper housing that are most vulnerable to hurricanes. She is one of an estimated 15,000 residents who sought refuge in the 285 shelters opened across Jamaica.
Although the eye of Hurricane Ivan just missed the island, the storm system was so big that it still took the lives of 15 people and caused extensive damage to infrastructure and property. The day after Ivan some parts of Kingston looked devastated with uprooted trees, telephone poles and electricity cables littering its normally tidy streets. Not one billboard remains intact.
The Jamaica Red Cross was prepared well before the arrival of Ivan. It alerted all its 14 branches and estimated 12,000 volunteers. The vanguard was its 8 Community Disaster Response Teams (CDRT) composed of about 60 volunteers who are trained in light search and rescue, first aid and disaster assessment.
They were out earlier last week with megaphones in some of the most vulnerable communities informing people of the imminent danger posed by Hurricane Ivan. They also informed residents the location of their closest community shelter and helped those who could not make it there on their own with transportation.
“I took a peak outside and what I saw scared me,” says Shedene Thawe, who also staying at the National Arena shelter managed by the Jamaican Red Cross. “I want to return home and get things back in order” she concedes. But many cannot as their homes have been completely destroyed or are still under flood waters.
Explains Ferris Ziadie, Chairman of the Kingston and St. Andrew branch, “The Red Cross continues to manage and administrate shelters and where necessary provided food, refreshments and first aid assistance.” In coordination with the Jamaican Government over 100 of the total shelters across the island are run by the Jamaica Red Cross. Many are managed by members of the CDRTs.
Goodwill was not shortcoming after Ivan. “In times of need we are not short of volunteers. They call us to say ‘we want to help’ because they know about the work of the Red Cross and because the emblem is so respected in Jamaica”, says Ferris Ziadie.
Now that the Hurricane has passed some people are returning home to rebuild their lives. But many have lost everything and must remain in shelters. The Jamaica Red Cross has begun distributing food parcels and hygiene items to the vulnerable. For devastated communities like Portland Cottage whose houses were swept away by a storm surge, the Jamaica Red Cross has begun to distribute tarpaulin used to construct temporary shelters or repair roofs until more permanent solutions are found.
Jamaica is not out of the woods just yet.
Continued relief assistance remains necessary. The Jamaica Red Cross has begun conducting damage assessment through all its branches. In addition, its 26 member volunteer Disaster Mental Health Teams have been deployed in shelters to provide people affected by the hurricane and volunteers alike with psychosocial support.
The Jamaica Red Cross is not alone in its efforts. The Federation has sent a FACT team composed of a relief, logistics, telecom and head of operations delegate to assist with relief efforts. The British Red Cross will deploy a member of a Emergency Response Unit specializing in logistics.
Say Federation FACT Team Officer, Stephen McAndrew, “The first consignment of aid from the Federation consisting blankets, tarpaulin sheets, water containers and hygiene kits has arrived to Jamaica through the Federation’s Pan-American Disaster Response Unit. We remain committed to assisting the Jamaica Red Cross with technical and material support so that they can continue to provide aid to the most vulnerable.”
As the aid continues to arrive and is distributed by the Jamaica Red Cross, people like Crystal and Shedene can find some assistance with picking up the pieces in the wake of Hurricane Ivan.