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Same-Day Analysis

Hurricane Pursues Destructive Caribbean Route, Threatens Central American Coast

Published: 20 August 2007
Hurricane Dean has hit the Caribbean and threatens to grow into a category five hurricane before smashing against Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula.

Global Insight Perspective

 

Significance

The storm has already claimed the lives of at least six people in Dominica, Martinique, Haiti, and Jamaica; unofficial estimates place the cost of damage in the region of US$1.5 billion.

Implications

Electoral campaigning in Jamaica has been halted and the poll of 27 August could be postponed. Authorities are on full alert in Cuba, the Cayman Islands, the United States, and Mexico’s south-eastern coast.

Outlook

Infrastructure and agricultural crops are likely to be strongly affected by Hurricane Dean, setting back the progress made after Hurricanes Ivan and Katrina in previous years.

Damage in Jamaica

Jamaica was today hit by Hurricane Dean’s 230-km/h winds, forcing authorities to declare a 30-day state of emergency on the island. Hurricane Dean, which is considered a category four hurricane, has crossed the south coast of Jamaica, with its eye just a few kilometres offshore. The storm has caused mudslides north of the capital, Kingston, and in the St Mary area in the north of the island. Power lines and trees have been ripped from the ground, and water and power supplies have been cut off. Airports in the island have been shut down since Saturday (18 August) and more than 4,500 people have been evacuated to nearly 1,000 shelters prepared by authorities. So far, one person is believed to have died, after falling trees destroyed his home.

Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller imposed a 48-hour curfew in order to combat looting by criminal gangs in evacuated areas. In the state of emergency decree, law enforcement agencies have been given wider powers to deal with criminality. Simpson Miller has called on citizens in coastal areas to evacuate to higher ground, but many refused because of fears of leaving their homes at risk of burglary. The premier also called on all off-duty police and fire brigade personnel to assist with the emergency. The United States has said that it is ready to fly in aid if necessary.

The storm has brought back unhappy memories of Hurricane Ivan, which affected Jamaica in 2004, when 14 people were killed and Jamaica’s economy was crippled. During 2005 and 2006, Jamaica’s agricultural sector has made stubborn efforts to recover from the damage caused by Ivan and unofficial estimates calculate that damages across the region amounted to US$1.5-3 billion, most of it in Jamaica. The island’s sugar industry, which had recovered considerably from 2004, is likely to suffer a significant setback after Dean, with a knock-on effect for the island’s plans to contribute to the production of alternative fuels (see Jamaica: 23 May 2007:Jamaican Sugar Production on Target Despite Adverse Weather).

Uncertainty Surrounds Jamaican Election

Hurricane Dean has cast a shadow of doubt over the upcoming Jamaican general election, which is supposed to take place on 27 August. Simpson Miller has hinted that the vote could be delayed as a result of the emergency and has called on all political parties to forget about politics and put their differences aside during the national crisis. The electoral process had already been tainted by politically motivated violence, sparking statements of concern from the leaders of the ruling People’s National Party and the opposition Jamaica Labour Party.

The crisis will be a decisive factor when the election is finally held. A discussion of the effectiveness of the government in dealing with the storm’s aftermath is likely to be an important part of the debate prior to the poll. In particular, the speed with which the authorities restore normality in Jamaica will be under close scrutiny.

Other Countries Affected

Dominica, where two people died and where the agricultural industry sustained some minor damage, was also hit by Hurricane Dean. The storm caused landslides in some areas, obstructed highways, and left remoter areas without electricity or water. The country was considered out of danger by National Disaster officials by Saturday (18 August) and utility companies were making progress in re-establishing access to basic services.

Prior to heading to Jamaica, Dean also hit the Dominican Republic and neighbouring Haiti, leaving in its wake a total of three deaths and scores of homes destroyed. In the Dominican Republic, the bulk of destruction was registered in the south-east of the country, where thousands were evacuated. The hurricane had first started to have destructive effect in St Lucia, where it caused landslides and brought down power-supply lines. Similarly, the French island of Martinique was hit by associated flooding, leaving one-third of the population without electricity. According to Christian Estrosi, France’s Overseas State Secretary, Martinique’s banana production has been destroyed and nearly 70% of the sugar crop has also been lost.

Next in the Path of Destruction

The Cayman Islands is set to be the hurricane's “next target”. Despite the storm passing south of the territory, authorities are bracing themselves for a heavy impact and as such have evacuated tourists and imposed a curfew. Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula is also lying in the path of Hurricane Dean, which is forecast to reach the country's Caribbean coast on Monday 20 August. Central and north-eastern Mexico is potentially at risk from the hostile weather system later in the week Tourists have been advised not to travel to the state of Quintana Roo, which includes the resorts of Cancún and the Riviera Maya. Hurricane Dean is expected to become a category five hurricane within the next few hours.

Cuba could also be affected by the storm although Cuban authorities have taken measures to minimise the impact of Hurricane Dean on the communist island. The provinces of Guantanamo, Santiago de Cuba, and Granma are likely to be affected after the tropical storm leaves Jamaica behind. Thus, the authorities are on full alert and mass evacuations have already begun, with nearly 150,000 people having been moved to safer areas. Special measures have been taken for tourists in the area and for key infrastructure facilities.

Although it is too early to know whether Hurricane Dean will hit the U.S. coast line, Texan Governor, Rick Perry, has order the evacuation of elderly citizens in risk areas. The space shuttle, Endeavour, moved the schedule for its return to earth forwards in case the space centre in Houston needs to be evacuated.

Outlook and Implications

Hurricane Dean has already left its mark in the Caribbean and authorities across the region are rushing through the development of last-minute plans to minimise the impact of the tropical storm. It is still too early to establish an accurate death toll, although it can be assumed that the region’s economy is likely to suffer a significant setback, undermining its economic growth and progress made during 2007.

In Jamaica, Hurricane Dean has threatened the political process. An already violent electoral campaign might now be postponed after normality in Jamaica is restored. The crisis is a big test for the administration of Simpson Miller: if the PNP handles the aftermath of Hurricane Dean smoothly, it could assure her party’s victory in the poll on 27 August; however, difficulties could lead to defeat and the end of her reign as prime minister.

Global Insight will shortly revise the sovereign risk and country risk ratings for the countries in the region, pending more detailed reports of the cost of damage and the impact on local economies.
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