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Hurricane Beryl highlights need for robust early warnings

Disasters 2024-07-09, 9:37am


Hurricane Beryl has caused devastation on Union Island in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. © WFP-Fedel Mansour

8 July 2024 - Hurricane Beryl, which left a trail of destruction from the Caribbean to Mexico – and now the United States – has once again underscored the urgent need for robust early warning systems, the UN meteorological agency (WMO) said on Monday.

Beryl is the strongest hurricane ever to form in the Atlantic during June and rapidly intensified from a tropical depression to a Category 4 storm, briefly reaching Category 5 with winds up to 240 km/h (150 mph).

It made landfall in Texas early Monday morning local time as a Category 1 hurricane, causing a dangerous storm surge and the risk of flash flooding.

It is expected to weaken rapidly as it moves further inland, according to the UN World Meteorological Organization (WMO) specialized regional centre Miami, which is operated by the US National Hurricane Center (NHC).

Extra vigilance needed

WMO also warned of a very intense hurricane season, with up to 25 named storms expected through November. Among them, eight to 13 could develop into hurricanes.  

“We need to be especially vigilant this year due to near-record ocean heat in the region where Atlantic hurricanes form and the shift to La Niña conditions, which together create the conditions for increased storm formulation,” said Ko Barrett, WMO Deputy Secretary-General.

“This is why WMO and its partners have prioritized early warning action in small islands under the international Early Warnings For All initiative.”

‘Sobering picture’ in Jamaica

As access improves, the full impact of Hurricane Beryl is becoming clear.  

UN humanitarian teams in Jamaica, where the hurricane made landfall at 5:00 PM on July 3, report a “sobering picture of widespread damage and destruction.”

More than 250 roads together with critical infrastructure have been extensively damaged by fallen trees, flooding, and storm surges. Many houses have lost their roofs, according to a humanitarian bulletin issued on Sunday.

“[A UN team] visited Old Harbor Bay, Portland Cottage, Rocky Point, Alligator Pond and Treasure Beach. They witnessed many families in need of water, food, cleaning, and reconstruction supplies for their homes, as well as psychological support.”

About 160,000 people, including 37,000 children, are estimated to require humanitarian assistance.

‘Significant destruction’

In the eastern Caribbean, where Hurricane Beryl first made landfall on 1 July, islands have reported “severe damage” and “significant destruction.”

“Exact numbers remain a challenge, as assessments are ongoing amid damage to logistics, power and communications services, as well as power cuts,” the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in a bulletin, also issued on Sunday.

Damage to small airstrips and reliance on smaller boats are hampering logistics efforts, complicating assessments, and delivery of aid.

In Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique, as well as northern areas, are among the hardest-hit, with limited public transportation links between Carriacou and the mainland.

Union Island in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines is also severely affected. Authorities are housing vulnerable people in tourism facilities and conducting assessments. An unknown number of people have evacuated the island.

UN responding rapidly

Meanwhile, UN teams are supporting national and regional authorities in ongoing assessment and assistance missions.  

Specialist UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) teams have also deployed to Grenada, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines to aid the response.

In Jamaica, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has finalized its response plan and submitted funding requests to key humanitarian donors to meet immediate needs for children and affected families. The agency is also collaborating with other agencies under the leadership of the UN Humanitarian Coordinator to prepare a joint appeal to raise emergency funds. – UN News