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Cayman made a remarkable recovery following enormous damage caused by Hurricane Ivan

Published 11th September 2015, 11:32am

September 11th, 2015 marks the 11th anniversary of Hurricane Ivan. While 11 years seems like a long time, for many, memories of the storm feel like it only happened yesterday.

Hurricane Ivan pounded the Cayman Islands, with the eye passing a mere 21 miles SW of Grand Cayman. Ivan demonstrated its strength with 8-10 foot storm surge, 150 mph sustained winds, and gusts of 220 mph, making it a Category 4 Hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Scale.

Destruction

Saying that hurricane Ivan destroyed the island, is not an exaggeration. Hurricane Ivan brutally reminded many of us about the vulnerabilities of living on a low lying Caribbean island.

In 36 hours Ivan damaged:

-70% (9,475) of Grand Caymanís residential dwellings with 4% of homes needing complete reconstruction

- Reduced hotel/vacation rental capacity from just over 3,200 hotel rooms, rental condos and guest houses to less than 500

- 90-95% of local crops were destroyed, such as avocados, bananas, mangoes, and pumpkins.

- There was $429 million dollarsí worth of damage in the commerce sector to infrastructure including warehouses, shops, and malls.

- CUC had substantial damage to power lines, distribution grids, and the submarine cable in the North Sound

- 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.

And the list goes on, leading to an all-hands-on-deck recovery process.

Recovery

The recovery process following Ivan lead 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. Cayman has successfully reduced its vulnerability by doing this, and is now much more prepared to handle another Ivan-like event.

Since Hurricane Ivan Cayman has:

- Increased building codes to strengthen all new residential and commercial infrastructure

- Required new government buildings to be built to withstand category 4 or 5 storms.

- Increased shelter space and improved standby power.

- Improved its ability to forecast hurricanes and issue warnings with the installation of Doppler radar.

- CUC now uses concrete poles, which are more resilient than wood poles.

- The Water Authority has created a looped water supply system and introduced a new water plant in North Side giving potable water infrastructure increased resilience and dependability.

- Roads have been fortified with sea walls, and new roads have been constructed more inland away from vulnerable coastal areas

- Many business and all Government agencies have developed Hurricane Plans to aid in the preparation and recovery after an event.

- The government is providing training for a wide cross section of representatives including the private sector.

Most notable among the training sessions is the Community Emergency Response Teams, or CERT program. The CERT Program is a collaborative program put on by the Cayman Islands Red Cross and Hazard Management Cayman Islands (HMCI), to improve the strength and resilience of local communities. The CERT program teaches disaster management, first aid, fire safety and other important skills that allow communities to respond to disasters immediately. The goal of this program is to reduce civilian reliance on officials, and empower communities to start the recovery process on their own.

Future growth

It is hard not to let this increased capacity instill a sense of false confidence. But we must be mindful that there is always more that needs to be done to prepare ourselves for another Ivan sized event.

- Individually we need to update our business and personal hurricane plans every year, and make sure that the corresponding family members and employees are familiar with the procedures.

- We also need to create communication plans, and talk about them yearly so we know how to reach family members, friends and coworkers.

- As a society we need to improve 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.

- There is also room to improve Caymanís storm water management, at present many roads flood after minor storms, implementing drainage ponds and other storm water controls will improve our capacity to deal with flooding.

- There is also room to increase shelter capacity, and develop specialized shelters for pets. While shelter capacity has grown since Ivan, there still is not enough shelter to house 10% of Grand Caymanís population. Furthermore, there are no public shelters that allow pets, which is a very real vulnerability for Caymanís pet owners.

- There is room to improve planning and building requirements. Cayman should review its minimum elevations and coastal setbacks, to determine if they are effective enough, and make the necessary policy changes if they are subpar.

- Finally, Cayman should consider additional protection for coastal wetlands. Coastal wetlands are proven to help mitigate storm surge, and add numerous other ecological services including strengthening coastlines from erosion and increasing biodiversity. Currently there is very little protection for the majority of Caymanís wetland areas, and no talk on wetland restoration in areas that have been damaged, filled or developed.

Lessons Learned

Hurricane Ivan was if anything a good teacher. It showed us our weaknesses, and taught us how strong we as a society are. The hurricane brought us together as a community, and reminded us of what really matters in life.

One of the most important lessons Ivan taught was that it only takes one storm to cause significant damage. So, as we enter the busiest part of this hurricane season remember to protect yourself. Check your home, car and medical insurance, check your hurricane box, and monitor the weather. You can also check HMCI website: www.Caymanprepared.gov.ky for tips, news and updates on storms.

Letís use Ivanís anniversary as a reminder. We live in the Caribbean and hurricanes are inevitable. Therefore, it is our responsibility to learn from our past mistakes, to be better prepared for the next storm.