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Published 20th July 2005, 3:4pm

Setting a record in a usually tranquil local hurricane-season history, the past two years have been extraordinary for Cayman. As if Ivan were not enough last year, residents of these three islands have already faced down two solid threats in what has been predicted will be a highly active 2005 hurricane season.

The seasonís early start is, however, reinforcing the message that advance preparation and heeding official warnings do assist in saving lives.

Thus, when Hurricane Dennis threatened in the first days of July, residents closely followed his path as he brushed by Jamaica. For a while it seemed as though Dennis would directly impact the Sister Islands and residents prepared, stocking up on supplies, reinforcing property and activating hurricane plans. On all three islands, shelters opened as necessary and all systems read, "Go!" Fortunately for us, Dennis took a northerly jump and the threat quickly receded.

Just days later, it was Hurricane Emilyís turn - this time taking aim at Grand Cayman. Once more residents were thrust into preparing for a major hit. But it did not come.

Impossible as it seemed, Emily came only near enough to send gusty weather, squalls, and wave action as she passed several miles from our shores. Yet her initial predicted track had indicated that she could bring serious devastation to Grand Cayman - and probably would have, were it not for a favourable high-pressure system that kept it to our south. The people of Cayman breathed a collective sigh of relief, thankful that we had been spared by the first two devastating storms of 2005, storms that had brought death and destruction to other countries in and around our region.

Yet it is our very good fortune that spurs the National Hurricane Committee to caution us against complacency. Head of Meteorological Services Fred Sambula reminds us that it is unwise to compare any two storms because the smallest path-change can dramatically affect the outcome for our islands.

"This is why we closely monitor all threats even before they enter our area," adds NHC Chairman Donovan Ebanks. "As we announce tracking changes, some of which can be quite sudden, it is vital that we all maintain our vigilance and readiness. Throughout the hurricane season, we have to continue our current level of preparedness in order to avoid panic if another storm comes our way."

Most residents will long remember the trials associated with Hurricane Ivan. All residents need to understand that every new storm that looms on the horizon has the potential to mean additional problems for Cayman.

Our community is fortunate that the NHC acts under the comprehensive rule: 'What could happen to one island, could happen to everyone,' sending a consistent message for all residents no matter what island they are on. NHC advice accordingly encourages early home preparations, the stockpiling of adequate emergency supplies, and the importance of "staying tuned."

"Our main objective stands," concludes Mr. Ebanks. "We have to ensure that the people of the Cayman Islands are well advised before, during, and after major weather threats. With all three islands being so close together, there is no need to separate the messages initially because it is only in the final hours of approach that it can be determined whether the Sister Islands or Grand Cayman will be more seriously impacted. Historically, systems have not seriously impacted both the Sister Islands and Grand Cayman. This is because systems generally travel in a north-westerly direction, and therefore may impact Grand Cayman and Jamaica--which lies to the SE, but would not impact Grand Cayman and the Sister Islands--which lies to the NE.

"We are committed to providing all the necessary information to pull Cayman through any storm. We just want our people to stay alert and to never assume that because we have been lucky so far, that the situation wonít change. We pray that it wonít, but we must always be ready."