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  • 08 / 21 / 2007

Jamaica bloodied but unbowed

Kingston, Jamaica-Damage, not devastation. Hurricane Dean- upgraded to Category 5 last night as it churned toward Mexico - killed at least three people when it hit Jamaica on Sunday. The storm tore roofs and walls from hundreds of flimsy houses, and knocked down thousands of trees.

In poor neighbourhoods along the island's southern coast, thousands of grim-faced residents took to the streets yesterday to clear debris from tree-covered streets and crumbling homes. Many of them said they don't believe they will receive the money and materials they need to rebuild.

But they're alive.

"Oh, I thank God," said Mavis Headad, 63, in Kingston. She lost her roof, but felt fortunate. "For the Category (4) storm I was expecting more damage, much more."

The hurricane, which veered south into the Caribbean as it approached Jamaica, was so much less destructive than forecasters first predicted that Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller called for a national day of thanksgiving.

Denis Kingsley, the Canadian high commissioner to Jamaica, said not one Canadian had asked high commission staff for assistance.

"I feel not only fortunate, I feel great," said George Lee, the mayor of the southern coastal town of Portmore, west of Kingston. "With the trajectory of the storm I saw before, it could have been a different story this morning."

Dean passed by the Cayman Islands yesterday and is expected to hit Mexico's Yucatan peninsula today with winds over 255 km/h.

The hurricane's effects will be "very costly" for Kingston, Mayor Desmond McKenzie said as he surveyed damage in the southern Denham Town neighbourhood.

The waterfront road connecting the city to its airport was washed out with sea sand; trees and power lines littered the streets; hundreds of homes need extensive repairs.

But flooding was minimal, buildings at the north end of the city were almost untouched, and many commercial buildings mere metres from the water were unscathed.

The hurricane had been expected to traverse the entire island. Instead, its centre remained out at sea, over 35 kilometres from the southern coast; northern towns, including tourist haven Montego Bay, were spared the storm's wrath.

"It could have been much worse," McKenzie said. "The eye didn't really come."

Most Jamaicans attempted to weather the storm in their homes, eschewing emergency shelters many felt were unsafe. About 6,000 residents occupied fewer than 25 per cent of the 1,000 shelters the government attempted to set up.

But thousands of low-income residents were betrayed by their own wooden walls and zinc-sheet roofs.

At 8 a.m. yesterday in Kingston's Rose Town neighbourhood, three of Ron Bennett's four children slept on his mattress. As they huddled nervously during the storm Sunday night, the roof above their bedroom was blown away.

"I don't know what I'll do next," he said. "Everything went up, and I don't have the money to fix it."

In Trenchtown, one of the poorest neighbourhoods in the country, the "government yard" complex where Bob Marley first made music was left without a scratch.

Across the street, however, women stared glumly at roofless one-room homes with gaping holes in their walls.

"Nobody going to help us," said Natalie Smith, 34. "Nobody come after Ivan three years ago, and nobody come after this."

The national government promised aid to people in need.

Housing materials, food, and bedding would be distributed to all 600 people who visited the prime minister's Kingston constituency office by early tomorrow, said staff member Beverly Hamilton.

Moments later and just down the street, Eva Richards pointed to her house, which had no roof.

"I will get no help," said Richards, 52. "Special, important people will get help."

In one part of Bull Bay, in the St. Thomas parish east of Kingston, houses and streets were filled with water more than a metre high. Residents said the area lacks proper drainage.

Electricity remained off across the country. A state of emergency remained in place, military patrols roamed the streets, and police reported at least one confrontation with looters.

Source: By Daniel Dale, The

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