Some natural disasters are common to Caribbean countries. These include hurricanes, floods, droughts, volcanic eruptions and earthquakes. Some islands in the Caribbean are more prone to certain types of natural disasters than others. The territories located in low lying areas are more prone to floods. Areas with few or no rivers or those sections of a country on the leeward side of mountains are more prone to droughts.
Hurricanes happen frequently in the Caribbean region because the region is very close to different bodies of water – the Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea. Hurricanes develop over the North Atlantic Ocean or the Guld of Mexico because of the difference in the temperature of the atmosphere. The area round about the Gulf of Mexico tends to be very warm because of its nearness to the Equator. When the hot air in this area rises the colder air from the North Atlantic blows in to take its place and this leads to the formation or hurricanes. A Hurricane is a storm with violent winds with speed of more than 120km (75 miles) per hour.
A Hurricane usually strengthens because of the warmth of the sea air. Hurricanes are usually placed in different categories because of their wind speed with a category five hurricane being the worst. The scale used to measure the intensity of a hurricane is known as the Saffir-Simpson scale.
A Hurricane has what is known as the “eye” which is near to the centre of the very strong winds. The eye is usually calm with violent winds circling around it. Sometimes we do not experience the stronger winds near the centre when the eye doesn’t pass over the land. Here in Jamaica we did not get the full effect of Ivan, Dennis or Emily because the eye of these systems did not pass over the island. Because the eye is so calm, people are sometimes fooled into thinking that the hurricane is over when the eye is passing and so venture outside. This happened during hurricane Gilbert on September 12, 1988.
In the Caribbean the hurricane season is from June to November. In years gone by, hurricanes occurred mainly in the months of August and September. During the 2005 hurricane season however, at least two major hurricanes developed during the month of July. Hurricanes Dennis and Emily developed during the first week of July and brought heavy rains and wind to several Caribbean islands. In Cuba, several lives were lost while in Jamaica severe flooding cut off many communities and forced many pepole to leave their homes. Unlike previous years, a powerful hurricane developed in the Caribbean in October. Hurricane Wilma dumped several millimetres of rain on Jamaica between October 14 and 20, 2005, flooding buildings and destroying vast sections of roadway.
Floods do not only happen during a hurricane. They can result from heavy rainfall at any time of the year. Whenever flooding occurs, roads are damaged and bridges become impassable. In Jamaica, the Yallahs fording in St. Thomas and the Flat Bridge in the Bog Walk Gorge are usually impassable when there is flooding. Sometimes farmers lose their crops and their animals drown. People sometimes lose their lives. In same cases, houses are also washed away.
Lack of proper drainage can increase the damage suffered during a flood. The cutting of trees from hillside areas often leads to soil erosion and sometimes a change in the path of some rivers. In Haiti where most of the forests are being destroyed, there is nothing to hold back the flood waters. Do you remember what this destruction of the forests is called? You are right if you said deforestation. During tropical storm Jeanne, more than 3000 people were killed by flood waters in Haiti. Jamaica has also suffered during floods. The recent tropical storm Gustav (August 2008) caused a lot of damage to roads, bridges and houses. Some communities such as Irish Town and Bull Bay were cut off and food had to be taken to the people by helicopters.
The islands of the Caribbean are located in an area where there are “faults” or cracks in the earth’s surface. These areas are referred to as “lines of weakness”. Some sections of the earth’s crust are constantly moving. Sometimes the movements are slight and as a result are hardly felt. These slight movements are called tremors. At other times the movements are great and can cause severe damage to property and result in the loss of many lives.
Earthquakes do not only occur on land but under the sea as well. When they occur under the sea they can result in huge tidal wabes as happened in the Tsunami of December 2004. Do you know about this? if not, visit your local library to learn about this Tsunami – where it took place and what happened.
Did you know that Jamaica experienced two major earthquakes? on June 7, 1692 Port Royal was hit by a devastating earthquake. Today, a large portion of the land in Port Royal is under the sea. A man by the name of Lewis Galdy who had been swallowed up by a crack in the earth was later thrown out into the sea where he was rescued. On January 14, 1907, Kingston and Port Royal were severely damaged by another earthquak. More than 3000 people lost their lives in the two earthquakes. There have been other earthquakes since then but none as serious as those two. We have also felt a number of tremors.
Other Caribbean countries have experienced earthquakes too, Dominica, Guadeloupe and parts of Mexico have been hit by earthquakes. An earthquake unit has been set up at the University of the West Indies, Mona and a seismograph has been placed at the University of the West Indies campus in Trinidad. Do you know what a seismograph is? it is an instrument used to record the force and direction of an earthquake. You might have heard of the Richter Scale. This is a scale of 0 to 10 for representing the strength of an earthquake.
A volcano is really a type of mountain. Under this mountain, there are special red hot rocks under the surface of the earth. Sometimes the rocks melt nd move through cracks deep inside the earth. THis molten rock is called lava when it reaches the surface of the earth. Hot ash and red hot stones often accompany the lava. Whenever this happens, we say that the volcano has erupted. After a time, the molten rocks become hard again and along with the ash and stones, they come together to form mountains, This is the type of mountain that is called a volcano.
Volcanic eruptions have taken place in Martinique, St. Lucia and Montserrat. When Mt. Pelee erupted on May 8, 1902, the town of St. Pierre was destroyed and its 28,000 inhabitants killed. Only one man who had been a prisoner in a cell escaped. In 1979, Soufriere in St. Vincent showed signs of activity. Although there was no major damage, Thousands of tonnes of lava and ash were ejected and many towns and villages had to be evacuated. It is said that ash was blown as far as Barbados – a neighbouring island. There is also a La Soufriere in Guadeloupe.
In Montserrat, the southern half of the island has been abandoned as a result of volcanic eruptions which started in 1995 at the Soufriere Hills volcano. Today, more than half of the population has left the island. While Montserrat’s Soufriere Hills Volcano is the only one in the region that is now erupting, The volcano known to have erupted most frequently this century is Kick’ em Jenny. This is an undersea volcano located about 8 km north of Grenada. Kick ’em Jenny is known to have erupted at least eleven times since it was first discovered in 1939. This volcano continues to grow towards the surface of the ocean and may eventually vecome the Caribbean’s newest island.
Although volcanoes are dangerous, there are some benefits which can be gained from them.
- Volcanic dust and ashes make the soil fertile. In the Eastern Caribbean islands, evidence of this can be seen as banana plantations thrive well on these lands.
- Crater lakes such as the Grand Etang and Lake Antoine in Grenada were both formed from the after effect of volcanoes. Today these two lakes have become tourist attractions in Grenada.