Wild Gilbert - Seaga reflects on devastating hurricane that struck 29 years ago
As our friends from the Eastern Caribbean and the United States look to piece their lives back together in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, Former Prime Minister Edward Seaga is reflecting on the devastation Hurricane Gilbert dumped on the island 29 years ago today.
Seaga, who was prime minister at the time, said Jamaica's lack of preparation for Hurricane Gilbert was due to not having any systems to forewarn citizens of the pending disaster. He also noted that at the time, Jamaicans had never experienced a direct hit from a hurricane.
"We didn't have any systems in place to forewarn us of any weather conditions, so it took us by just hearing of what happened in adjoining countries. We didn't know anything about it until it reached the Dominican Republic and Haiti, and that was on the Saturday evening (before the hurricane made landfall on the Monday)," Seaga recalled.
"The second thing was that the people of Jamaica never had the experience of a direct hurricane hit since 1953, so we had to run around and advise them to get into their homes the Sunday morning when it was coming. They couldn't understand why because they never knew that the hurricane was going to be so vicious."
According to Seaga, the structures of buildings in Jamaica at the time were never made to withstand hurricane winds.
"It had tremendous impact on housing, and when I say housing, I am not talking just the small country homes or the ones that are made of weak material, but big buildings and big houses lost their roofs," Seaga said. "Factories had to be closed and hotels had to close. So, it hit in every direction."
But even more than the devastation, Seaga remembers the response from the international community in the aftermath of Gilbert.
"We had immediate response from overseas, tremendous response," Seaga said. "Planes came in every day with food and clothing and all kind of things that were needed. And we had to have a team at the airport to get them in and trucks to bring the things."
The former leader of the Jamaica Labour Party told THE STAR that the businesses and governments who came bearing gifts were proud of the progress the country had made at the time and "were very sad to see what happened, and they responded."
One of the persons who benefited from the immediate response from the international community was Kingstonian, Keturah Johnson, who had lost her roof.
"I think less than a week the MP come, and mi get 20 sheets of zinc," Johnson recalled.
For the countries that are affected by Hurricane Irma, Seaga is urging their leaders to rally their citizens to start the work of getting back their lives together.
"Rally the people to get to work. I went out myself to dig in the trenches. You rally the people to clean up as quickly as possible, and to put them in a position to get the gifts that will come in," Seaga said.