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VITEMA Official Says Now's the Time to Prepare for Hurricanes

The 2010 hurricane season that’s just around the corner is predicted to be an active one, but emergency planners are approaching it the same way they would regardless of the forecast.
“It only takes one,” said Jacqueline Heyliger, assistant director of the V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency, who spoke about emergency preparedness Tuesday night at the St. Croix Rotary West Club meeting.
Virgin Islanders are no strangers to the destructive power of hurricanes and are old hands at preparing, Heyliger said, but it bears repeating each season, she said. Every home should have an emergency preparedness kit, she said, including water and nonperishable food to last at least 72 hours, flashlights, batteries and a battery-powered radio. Now is the time to assemble those kits, she said—not when a storm is plowing through the Caribbean aimed at the islands and only hours away.
The prediction for this season calls for 15 named storms, eight of them hurricanes, four of those major hurricanes of category three or higher. Where they strike remains, of course, a mystery until just days before the event, given the peripatetic, almost whimsical nature of storm tracks.
Heyliger also emphasized the importance of efforts to plan for tsunamis. The Caribbean is a seismically active region so there’s always the potential for a tidal wave hitting one of the islands. In fact, Frederiksted was hit by a major tsunami in 1867 that washed as far inland as St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, she said. That event hit the coast just 10 minutes after the earthquake that precipitated it.
VITEMA has $300,000 for a warning system that will alert residents to incoming tsunamis, but Heyliger urged people not to wait until they hear the siren before moving to safety.
“The moment we feel an earthquake it’s time to move,” she said. “You need not wait for a siren … You need to be moving away from the shoreline as soon as you feel the movement.”
The government is still evaluating warning systems, she said, and won’t be able to completely cover every mile of shoreline, but all the major residential areas will be covered, she said.
VITEMA is also preparing to designate tsunami safety areas and post signage pointing the way to safety.
In answer to a question about the active volcano on Montserrat, Heyliger said questions of ash fall, should there be a major eruption, are more a matter for the Department of Health. VITEMA’s interest in the volcano is again mainly in terms of tsunamis. An eruption that either threw a massive amount of material into the sea, or caused an underground collapse could trigger a tsunami, she said.
Heyliger said she wasn’t trying to alarm people or cause undue anxiety, but it’s important for residents to be aware of the world around them and the potential threats, and to prepare for them accordingly.

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