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A natural hazard is when extreme events which cause great loss of life and or property and create severe disruption to human lives, such as a hurricane. Editor Philip Whitefield brings up an important point in ‘ Our Mysterious Planet’ when he comments;
‘At a time when we know how to aim a space probe directly at Mars and trigger the gigantic forces of nuclear power, we are still at the mercy of hurricanes and volcanoes.’
It seems peculiar how we can be at such an advanced stage technologically yet we are unable to completely stop a natural hazard from causing loss of life and damage to existing constructed resources and infrastructures.
Hurricane Gilbert, September 1998 was described by meteorologists at the US National Center in Miami, as the most intense western-hemisphere tropical cyclone on record. Large areas of Jamaica were devastated and the country’s Prime Minister, Edward Seaga, pronounce it the worst natural disaster ever to strike his country. Greatest loss of life however, occurred in Mexico where Gilbert hit twice, first of all traversing the Yucatan Peninsula and two days later making landfall some 150 km south of the border with the USA, finally dissipating near the city of Monterrey.
During its most intense phase at the western end of the Caribbean Sea, Gilbert was estimated to have central pressure of 885mbar, and maximum sustained winds in its circulation over 150kt (knots) with highest gusts in excess of 175 kt. The central pressure outrivalled the 899 mbar of the Florida Keys hurricane of 1935. Gilbert, at that stage an un-named tropical depression with maximum sustained winds around 30kt, was first spotted on Thursday 8 September some 300km east of Barbados. It brushed past Barbados and St Lucia the following day with limited wind-damage and some flooding, and was upgraded to ‘tropical storm’ status (means winds 34kt or more).
Gathering strength over the warm waters of the eastern Caribbean, Gilbert achieved ‘hurricane’ status (means winds 64kt or more) , with gale force winds brushing the south coasts of Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. The island was swept by the full force of the storm , first from the north and then from the south, Central pressure at this stage was estimated at 960mbar, wi...

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...ive in the paths of approaching storms. Development policies that diversify the economy so that the poor do not need to live near flood prone land for a livelihood should be encouraged. Similarly, primary healthcare must be implemented so that the population is more resistant to disease in the aftermath of disaster.
Communications infrastructure should be improved to enable more rapid evacuations. The science of prediction must be continually developed by investing in appropriate technology and research. Again, this would only be possible in more economically developed countries as only they have the necessary funding. Perhaps it would be a good idea to increase the access of the poor to low interest loans to increase their recovery prospects after a disaster.
It is clear that at the moment total prevention is virtually impossible. While in EMDC’s hazards may be just an inconvenience (even if it is a very expensive one), whilst it is still a matter of life or death in the developing world. Referring back to Philip Whitfields remark at the beginning, it seems man still remains virtually powerless against nature ,even as we approach the millennium.

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