Statement by Prime Minister Holness At Press Conference With Emergency Agencies on Preparation for Hurricane Beryl

Statement by Prime Minister Holness At Press Conference With Emergency Agencies on Preparation for Hurricane Beryl

Statement by Prime Minister Holness At Press Conference With Emergency Agencies on Preparation for Hurricane Beryl



The Most Honourable Andrew Holness ON, PC, MP

Prime Minister of Jamaica

At the

Press Conference With Emergency Agencies on Preparation for Hurricane Beryl


July 1, 2024




Thank you, Minister.

Colleagues, heads of entities that are here,

Members of the press,

Our Jamaican Diaspora overseas,

And of course, the rest of the world who are looking on and wishing and hoping the best for us. And indeed, let me also express our solidarity with our brothers and sisters in the Eastern Caribbean who are presently being affected.

Now, I understand that it is a fast-moving system, and that Barbados has already issued an all clear that it has moved past them, but they are still in some harm’s way. The outer bands will still affect them, they will still get rain and when we are finished here, we will get the assessment of damage to those countries and whatever we can do even in our own preparations we will stand ready to assist.

The system is an unusual one. I’m not going to pretend to be the weatherman today. Evan did such an excellent job in bringing the nation up to date, but it should be noted that this would be probably the first hurricane that has come so early in the season and has reached this category so quickly. It is a signal of the climate change issues that we’re always very cognizant of.  The hurricane seems to have the potential once it has left the Eastern Caribbean to either maintain or strengthen its capacity so the projection that Evan gave us is that it could be a category two when it reaches Jamaica, but all of this Jamaica should bear in mind it is a projection of likelihood. It could degrade and we would say, thank God. It could increase and we would even pray harder, so what can we do? As a country we must be prepared.

Today, I’m addressing you on what the government is doing to be prepared. There is a legislative framework which guides the government’s preparation, and that framework is called the Disaster Risk Management Act and at the beginning of the hurricane season, we called together all the entities that have anything to do with disaster preparedness. And Minister McKenzie has already mentioned that the various committees under the act have been initiated so we are following that legislative framework and we have put in place the various committees.

Now, the government is contemplating, based upon the various updates that we have received, the implementation of orders under the Disaster Risk Management Act. This would give the government the necessary executive powers to be able to respond quickly and with flexibility. No decision has yet been taken, the Cabinet will reconvene in another hour or so and when we review all the recommendations and presentations made, then we will inform the nation as to the implementation of orders under the DRMA. This is very important. It is very important to one established that there is a disaster and that emergency rules would kick in, very important for accountability afterwards.

Sometimes after disasters have passed, the accountability process sometimes does not incorporate that there was a disaster and so it is important that the framework be well established. So, it is likely that we will implement orders on the Disaster Risk Management Act that the nation will know this before 5pm today. It will also be important for guiding our security forces, particularly in the taking of pre-emptive actions to prevent looting, which we have seen instances of this in disasters past, and we will not have and countenance any such thing in this pending emergency.

It is also necessary to help us do to guide and encourage the general public who may be in areas that are likely to be impacted significantly. By all projections, the hurricane, which it is now, is on a track to affect significantly the southern end of the island which means that low-lying areas are going to be seriously affected. We will probably be affected by heavy rains, by flooding.  We have seen when we are impacted in this way that some areas have been affected by landslides which have caused deaths. Because it is a hurricane, we will also have high winds, which mean that we could see damage to residential property and to other infrastructure, so we have to be prepared for that.

I want you to take note that both the JDF and the Fire Brigade have advised that at some point in time, their services will not be available, meaning that for evacuations, for health responses for emergency  services, we may not have  aircraft, boats, fire trucks because those things may have to be secured during the hurricane so this means that as citizens, you have to look at the threat to your immediate environment and make the right decision about evacuation. It is always a sensitive and touchy subject. I quite well understand people don’t want to leave their property, they worry about security, but the most important thing is your life so I would encourage you, please.

The security forces or emergency services would not be able to operate in the heights of the hurricane and even just before and there may be even a delay after, so we encourage you, please, secure yourself by moving to higher ground, moving to safer ground, making arrangements with your family members to find safer place to be. So, if you live particularly in low-lying areas starting from the most eastern end of the island, that would be anywhere in Portland and St Thomas coming up to the Manchioneal area coming all the way around. If you are in areas in the East Rural St Andrew coming around, please, you’re going to be impacted so take the necessary steps. I cannot implore you more than I’m doing now. I’m encouraging you, please take the necessary steps.

The government is also making the necessary arrangements to ensure that we are able to respond after the hurricane has passed. We are in touch with the commercial trade to ensure that we have sufficient stocks in place that persons can be able to at least have access to food and water after the hurricane has passed. As you would have heard from the relevant entities that we have two weeks supply off of fuel. Our telecommunication services have been investing significantly in improving the resilience of their hard infrastructure, and we expect that they should stand up but if there is any disruption or a break, we are pursuing alternatives to ensure that we are still connected, particularly for government entities, and Minister Vaz highlighted one of the parallel approaches we are taking to ensure connectivity and the continuation of business.

In terms of information, in a disaster, information is critical and in today’s world, you will have many sources of information.  Again, I’m urging all citizens to pay close attention to the government information outlets and to your traditional, credible, well-established sources of information in the media. The JIS will be working directly now with ODPEM. ODPEM is in charge of the coordination and response of Jamaica’s emergency preparation.

An important part of our emergency response is how we communicate with the public and so JIS will be working directly now with ODPEM to ensure that it gets out the information so the JIS will be your central source but all the media that are here that are established credible sources, they will be getting their information from the JIS so there will be a consistent and even flow of information to the public to help you to make the decisions necessary for your safety.

In terms of our plans for security, we’re not yet contemplating any curfews or any limitation on movement but as we get closer to the time and we are able to assess the intensity of the hurricane, then we will make those decisions and that will be communicated. At this point in time, I am encouraging all Jamaicans to take the hurricane as a serious threat. It is, however, not a time for panic. It is a time for us to be very strategic and calculated in our approach. We have 48 hours in which to prepare. Within that 48 hour, a lot could change, but we are taking this precautionary stance now because it is easier to be prepared when you’re standing on your two feet than when you are in the midst of a hurricane struck down. We’re being not overly cautious, not in a panic mode, but we are being very strategic in our response, and we want to convey that to the general public. You have enough time, enough notice to take the necessary precautions. And what would those precautions look like?

First of all,  we would encourage you to have your precautionary supply of food, at least two or three days just in case, and that should be preferably water, most important potable water for drinking and canned foods to ensure that you can last for three days if the storm is of that impact that it prevents you from being able to get supplies at supermarkets and corner shops.

You should also note that our electricity service and  eventually water will go if the storm reaches a serious threshold and this is a precautionary move by our utilities in many respects to ensure that there are no fires or serious damage to their equipment and of course, to preserve our water supply in many instances so you should ensure that you have some form of  light, whether it is candles or batteries. And of course, if you are using any open flame, whether it is a candle or a home sweet home lamp, please ensure that you take the necessary precautions. Again, if you have a fire, it will be very difficult for the Fire Brigade to respond, so we ask you to take precautions in that regard.

Many households will be using generators, and some of these generators may very well be inside or close to where people actually live or sleep, and that can be dangerous because the generators emit an odourless and colourless gas, carbon monoxide, which could just easily wipe out an entire family if it is not dealt with properly. So, if you have generators, make provisions for them to be outside, or there is provision for the exhaust to be moved out of the enclosed space.

There will be, if there is a high wind, a general impact on residential housing; roofs and windows so if you have objects that are in your home or in your vicinity that are not secured, those could become missiles in the event of high winds so you would want to secure those as, as much as you can. It means now that there has to be a level of cooperation between you and your neighbours. This is where the community spirit comes in, where we all have to secure our community.

In some communities, particularly, those that are undergoing construction, there may be aggregates around and in the event of heavy rain, those will end up being washed out on roadways and into drains, and that can exacerbate flooding so where we have aggregates and other building material, please secure them, put blocks around them, cover them with tarpaulins just to ensure that they don’t end up as debris in our drains which would contribute to even greater flooding so those are things that you can do.

For your personal documents, you want to ensure that they are also protected. But again, I repeat that for those persons who live in low-lying areas that have traditionally been impacted by storms and floods, that you want to take action now so get in touch with your family members. Start making preparations for evacuations.  Listen out to the media, particularly the government entity, the government media entity, JIS where the necessary warnings and updates will be given periodically; that is going to be important for you to help you with your decision making.

Lastly, the NWA has been pre mobilized as you would have heard. We are looking at critical drains and gullies, and we are trying to get the cleaning done as quickly as possible. Let me reiterate the point made by the head of the NWA that even if we were to clean all the drains, it is still likely that several areas in Jamaica will be flooded. If the rains that come, which are predicted, if they do come, the capacity of our existing drains, many of them built 60 years ago when they were thinking about these one in a hundred-year events, would not be able to immediately carry off the downpour so we will have flooding, and that means that you have to protect your space. It means maybe sandbagging. It means making sure that if you are lower than the roadway, and some areas are, that you protect your entryways where water could come in so those are important things for the citizens to be aware of.

And as I close my presentation to Jamaicans, I’m a firm believer in prayer and I would urge all Jamaicans now to pray for the safety of the country. In 2016, I believe it was Hurricane Matthew threatened Jamaica. It was on its way. It was a certain hit and then inexplicably it turned to the north. God is good, all the time. God is good. Thank you.