JAM | Jul 11, 2024

Vaz says greater national disaster resilience after Hurricane Beryl

Nathan Roper

Nathan Roper / Our Today

Reading Time: 4 minutes
Transport Minister Daryl Vaz addresses a post-Cabinet press briefing at Jamaica House on Wednesday, June 26, 2024. (Photo: JIS)

In light of the significant damage and disruption that Hurricane Beryl inflicted on Jamaica’s electrical
and telecommunication systems, the Minister of Science and Technology, Daryl Vaz, has stated
that the relevant bodies are beginning to ‘investigate’ alternative methods to mitigate future damage in
the event of other natural disasters.

Hurricane Beryl Jamaica’s south coast as a Category 4 Hurricane last Wednesday, causing major damage to the country’s critical infrastructure, particularly on the Jamaica Public Service power grid alongside the cable and wireless networks.

The result was that many Jamaicans found themselves without electricity, internet, and cellular service for days on end, effectively cutting them off from the outside world following the storm’s passing.

(Photo: Facebook @myjpsonline)

The damage dealt to the capabilities of JPS and telecoms providers Flow and Digicel has raised concerns among many about the vulnerability that the power grid and telecom networks face through the use of overhead powerlines, many of which were either blown down or suffered some other form of damage during the passage of Beryl.

For many, the obvious solution is to invest in underground wiring, where the power and cable lines cannot be so easily affected by the weather above.

When asked about the feasibility of such a project on Monday (July 9) during an press briefing at Jamaica
House, Vaz stated that it was something to consider, but that careful attention must also be given to the
potential expenses of such an initiative. “I think it is something JPS and the telecoms are going to have
to look at,” the minister said. “I think the big problem that has faced them so far is the cost, which is
why we don’t see more of it even in private developments.”

A Digicel technical field team leader, installing free space optical communication hardware at a tower. (Photo: Facebook @Digicel)

In spite of these concerns, Vaz confessed that in light of the dangers and growing risks associated with
climate change, which would in turn lead to more severe weather events, that the idea of underground
wiring was: “the future, without a doubt.”

By transferring from overhead to below-surface connections, the minister claimed that a more long-term solution could be in the cards.

Vaz also expressed his relief to hear about the progress made by both Flow and Digicel in restoring
normalcy and pre-hurricane conditions of their respective networks. He reported that he and the rest of
Cabinet had received on Monday an update from both Flow and Digicel that a speedy recovery was in progress and nearing completion.

In his own words, he expected both entities to be ‘fully back up’ by the end of the week, with some exceptions.

Flow technicians replacing cables in Morant Bay, St Thomas after the passage of Hurricane Beryl. (Photo: Contributed)

“[The reports given] basically show that they are pretty much in the 80s and 90s per cent back on track
in terms of service delivery. Most of the reasons why they are not [completely finished] are because of
the lack of electricity and access to the cell sites based on the damage to roads.”

The minister assured the general public that the telecoms companies, alongside JPS, were working as hard and as fast as they possibly could to rectify the situation on the ground, and that he was urging for the Jamaican people still without electricity and/or cellular service to remain calm and patient.

Vaz noted that there was a lot of intricate and delicate work that had to be done before power and communication could be restored, and that even after the Hurricane, weather still was an obstacle that could slow down the efforts of the government and service providers.

“When you think of the fact that we had the hurricane last week Wednesday and that we had some
weather coming behind it, which hampered the ability for the assessment to be done by air and by
ground…lets be realistic. Today is Monday, and it was a major hurricane and hit on the south coast.”

Everton Evanks stands in his room where the roof has been completely pulled apart in the aftermath of Hurricane Beryl, in St. Elizabeth Parish, Jamaica, July 5, 2024. (Photo: REUTERS/Maria Alejandra Cardona)

The minister would conclude by stating that several of those areas on the aforementioned South Coast,
particularly Southern Clarendon, Manchester and Southern St. Elizabeth, have restoration levels ‘between 95 and 100 per cent’ by Saturday, July 13.

Vaz stated that Manchester, Clarendon, and St Elizabeth would likely have to wait longer, as the damage there was far more severe and damaging for their lines and towers, which would require far more extensive efforts to bring back into action. Assessments in these areas were not yet fully concluded, and so the total restoration there could potentially take as long as four weeks.

“All in all, we’re on the right track. It is frustrating and inconvenient, but we are recovering well.”


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