Many Caribbean countries and territories are facing the possibility of natural disasters on top of the ongoing Covid-19 emergency with anxiety and fear adding to the already high level of stress. The BVI is no exception and occurrence of strong and repeated earthquakes in nearby islands such as Puerto Rico is definitely bad news. Furthermore, forecasts for the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season — which starts on June 1 and lasts through Nov. 30 — aren’t looking good for the Caribbean . Weather experts have pointed out that this year could be one of the worst hurricane seasons on record, with potentially 20 named storms.
The 5.5 magnitude earthquake that struck Puerto Rico last Saturday reinforces the concerns that always hovers the Territory about possible natural disasters such as hurricanes, tsunamis and earthquakes. The recent occurrence also added disaster fears to the COVID-19 stress.
Noting the damages Puerto Rico suffered as a result of this earthquake, His Excellency Governor Augustus Jaspert issued a statement on Wednesday urging residents to upgrade their disaster plan to include masks and social distancing.
The Governor stated, “Many of us would have seen the reports of the recent earthquake in Puerto Rico. Our thoughts are with those affected by any damage. With seismic activity continuing in the region and the Atlantic Hurricane Season just around the corner, it is timely that many are wondering what they might do differently when it comes to emergencies in the context of the Coronavirus COVID-19.”
While calling for a merger of the COVID-19 threat and disaster preparedness His Excellency declared, “Dealing with and living with the threat of COVID-19 means that we are embracing change in many areas, but I can assure the public that our focus on being prepared and ready to approach any emergencies has not changed. Government continues to monitor regional and international conditions via the Department of Disaster Management and our regional partners including the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre, the Puerto Rico Seismic Network and the Caribbean Climate Outlook Forum.”
“The Emergency Communications network continues to be improved and indeed has been tested in a new way during this current outbreak, as you all would have seen the Health Emergency Operations Centre’s COVID-19 messages reaching you via various methods since the global pandemic began,” he added.
While noting that a sudden disaster will not be an excuse for persons to leave home without a mask or for not adhering to the six feet apart practice Governor Jaspert said, “If evacuation orders are issued, it is imperative that residents understand these orders are to protect lives and safeguard people, and would take precedence over any existing curfew or stay-at-home advice. If you are ordered to evacuate, you should do so urgently and without worry that you may be leaving home in violation of curfew. Likewise, if you live along the coast and you observe any of the natural warning signs of an approaching tsunami, such as a very long or strong earthquake, you should self-evacuate and get to the safe points, even if it happens to be during a curfew period.”
“All social distancing measures should continue to be observed, so please, if you do need to evacuate, ensure that you do so wearing your mask; and once you arrive at your designated safe area, keep six feet away from those who aren’t part of your household,” he further stated.