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LIVING IN NEVER-NEVER LAND *LINK*

By Suzanne Mills

The last seven days can only be described as a week that a precocious boy born on the western coast of Africa, bearing the unlikely name given to famous and infamous Russian emperors became a man in the Central Atlantic and took over the Caribbean. Ivan the Great, Ivan the Terrible, Ivan the Erratic, Ivan the Unprecedented, call him what you want, he will always be remembered as a one-man coup díťtat. I am writing this column on Saturday morning and Ivanís centre even now has his grip on Jamaicaís south eastern tip, his winds gusting at 150 miles an hour. Ivan spent Friday night battering Jamaica, even though the Category Four Hurricaneís deadly eye passed lower south of the Caribbean island than originally expected. Initial reports from the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Response Agency (CDERA) website indicate that in Jamaica, of the 500,000 ordered evacuated from low lying areas, only 300 are in shelters and that some coastal zones have experienced tidal surges. Two houses on the south western shoreline, according to CDERA, have been washed away. Voice of America is reporting two deaths thus far, but the toll is expected to rise.

It is also saying that there has been severe flooding, unsurprising given that some of the waves were reportedly 20 feet high. Many people in low areas are certain to be in extreme danger. Iíve been able to reach a friend in Kingston on his cell phone. He tells me his house is damaged, but assures me he and his family are safe. The wind is pushing the rain against his shuttered windows and through any cracks it can find, he says. It feels as if someone has a high pressured hose aimed at his house. The power went at three pm on Friday he adds. He hasnít ventured outside since then. Ivan is not through with his Caribbean massacre. He isnít satisfied with the death and destruction he has left behind in Grenada, Tobago, Barbados, Venezuela, St Lucia, St Vincent and now Jamaica. The Caymans and Cuba are next on his bloody and costly campaign. From there he will enter the United States via an already whipped north-western Florida or through Georgia because with Ivan no one can tell where heís really headed.

As if he were an envoy of Osama bin Laden, Ivan has almost landed in the US on the third anniversary of 9/11. Iíve been tracking this strange storm called Ivan on the internet since Monday morning and I still wonder today if Trinidadians realise how very fortunate they have once more been. On Monday, Ivan, then a Category Three hurricane with maximum winds of about 120 miles per hour was moving steadily northwest towards the Windward Islands. A hurricane warning was in effect for Barbados, Grenada, Saint Lucia, and St Vincent and the Grenadines. The leaders of these countries had already alerted their populations to the threat. National disaster plans were activated. A tropical storm warning was in effect for Tobago and Trinidad. The THA closed schools early and placed its population on alert. In Trinidad, national disaster plans were also reportedly activated, but NEMA could not be reached, no word was forthcoming from the Central Government and so life went on as usual. It was only late Monday night that it was announced schools would be closed the next day.

Later in the afternoon Tobago would be placed on a hurricane warning. Though Trinidadians were not taking Ivan on, by Monday evening Ivan seemed to be taking them on. The storm track map showed that Ivan was doing something peculiar. He started to dip south, as if he planned to conquer Trinidad, instead, teach us a lesson for being so cavalier. The National Hurricane Centre (NHC) in Miami had already noted that it was unprecedented to have a hurricane this strong at such low latitude in the Atlantic Ocean. So, it wasnít surprising that Ivan was showing Monday he didnít give a hoot about precedent. He seemed bent on scrawling his name into Trinidadian, Caribbean and world history. I confess that from that moment on I did not keep my eyes off Ivanís path for too long. I was intrigued by this bold, weird storm. Late Monday evening, I realised that Ivan was bolder, more unpredictable than I thought.

He was definitely on a direct collision course with Trinidad. Was Ivan planning to pull off the biggest hurricane coup in the Caribbean? The Met Office seemed to think so. Trinidad was put on hurricane warning. I wondered if Trinis knew that Ivan, with winds of 125 miles per hour, had decided to take over our island and that we had not prepared for battle with him. If he landed, we would lose life and limb, buildings would be blown away and most of the island would flood. The reality of Ivan only sank in for most early Tuesday morning when the heavy rain and large gusts of wind began. Some people rushed for food and gas, despite the repeated calls for them to stay indoors. When I glanced outside my window, I could see cars and citizens circulating. Here I was watching the storm map, amazed to see Trinidad covered in red, the worst colour possible and Trinidadians were on the road. We really did believe all our various gods were Trinis.

As the morning progressed, Ivan changed his mind and drifted north again, on his way to devastate Grenada. The birds came out to chirp and to ride the weaker wind currents. Trinidad was soon placed on tropical storm watch. Hours later, the island was declared out of danger. Some people almost seemed disappointed, but Ivan would hit us a light, but alarming parting shot later that night. I concluded Tuesday ó and I am still convinced of it ó that the myth that all gods were born here would be reinforced by Ivanís last minute decision to steer clear of Trinidad. I also concluded that we would be damn fools if we believed this story. In the first place, Ivan stayed away, probably not because of any gods, but because he had heard we were the kidnapping island of the Caribbean and decided he might never make it up the Basin and to the US if he landed here.

But that which really challenges our mythical tale of the nationality of any of our deities is the following question: if Ivan could fly so low and create hurricane history, who can say that another storm of bolder nature will not try a feat even more daring? In other words, we should thank our lucky stars this time, stop talking nonsense about God being a Trini and we should never, ever again say never.

Trinidad and Tobago News

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