Earlier today, we learned that Hurricane Jerry has developed to the east of the Leeward Islands. The Department of Disaster Management has been closely following the development of Jerry and other systems in this, the most active period of the Atlantic Hurricane Season. At the moment, forecasters expect this system to pass to the north of our islands as a Category 1 hurricane tomorrow into Saturday.
I hope and pray that such an outcome materialises and leaves the Virgin Islands unscathed, and yet, we must acknowledge that the most pressing lesson learned from Hurricane Dorian and other systems so far this season is their capacity to change course and gain strength unexpectedly. Dorian, the system that at first looked to be minor tropical storm passing well to the south of us, became a Category 1 hurricane bringing flooding and minor damage to some areas. That system continued to strengthen and went on to devastate Abaco and Grand Bahama Island in the Commonwealth of The Bahamas.
Climate experts tell us that the closer a system gets to us, the more accurate the forecast will be. Information shared via the 11:00 pm forecast tonight will likely hold true for tomorrow, but rather than scrambling to react to tonight’s forecast, I would prefer we expedite our ongoing preparation.
With that in mind, Government is urging all our residents and visitors to do the same. Families and businesses should have a plan in place should the system change course and require rapid action. This level of preparation is not only necessary for Hurricane Jerry, but the other systems that are developing in the Atlantic.
In consultation with the Honourable Premier and Minister of Finance and on the advice of DDM, I will activate the National Emergency Operations Centre at Level 1 at 5 pm today, September, 19th. This means that critical response agencies in the NEOC Operations group will be monitoring the situation closely and be on standby for the possibility of increasing the activation level.
The public service, including all public schools, will be closed, tomorrow, September 20th, except for essential services. These essential services, as defined by the BVI Labour Code, are the Police Service, Prison Service, Water and Sewerage Services, Fire and Rescue Services, Electricity Generation and Distribution Services, Telecommunication Services, Health Care Providers, Transportation Services and Port Services. Although the public service will be closed for usual operations, public officers are required to work remotely where possible.
Within the public service, preparing for the possibility of a hurricane means that extra effort must be given to secure equipment, buildings and vehicles. I urge our counterparts in the private sector to consider following our lead in this, as it is always better to be safe, than to be sorry. We intend to be safe.
For some, this level of preparation may seem extreme, and it certainly requires extra effort for all involved. To those persons I will simply say that I would much rather face the loss of work hours, than the loss of lives. If nothing else, let us all utilise the approach of Hurricane Jerry to put all the lessons we have learned and plans we’ve put in place since 2017 to the test. The sea conditions in the northern parts of the Territory are already hazardous, which resulted in the closure of the St. Thomas Bay Jetty in Virgin Gorda. Hurricane Jerry and the other active systems in the Atlantic may bring further unstable sea conditions.
For now, I urge all persons to continue to monitor conditions closely. The DDM will be pushing out the latest information as it comes in throughout the rest of the day and into tomorrow via its website, mobile app and social media channels. Should emergency action be required, emergency alerts will be issued via radio and text message.
To truly Be Ready for the rest of the hurricane season, we have to prepare ourselves, our families and our Territory for the possibility that any system has the potential to become a hurricane. We all need to monitor the forecast regularly, and to help keep each other informed.
I say all this not to make residents anxious, but to highlight that only by remaining ready, can we be truly prepared. As we remain watchful over the coming days and weeks, take the opportunity to review your personal emergency plans and supply kits; as well as to carry out any repairs that Dorian’s passage exposed. Continue to take care of each other and to Be Ready.
Remember that we are just two years out of the most destructive period that we have ever experienced in living memory, and just weeks out from the vivid and emotional memories of the devastating impacts on the people of the Bahamas. This message goes beyond the technicality of accurately predicting weather patterns. It provides what we intend to strive for – a consistent approach to managing hazard impacts and disasters which involved being cautious, caring, responsible and to always Be Ready.