Defying danger

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The houses they live in were battered and bruised by hurricanes Ivan in 2004 and Dean in 2007 and seem ready to collapse when they next get hit by a strong breeze or massive wave. Still, the people who now occupy these once abandoned buildings are facing the 2019 hurricane season without fear.

The hurricane season started yesterday and will end on November 30. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has predicted a “near-normal” season with between two and four major hurricanes expected.

While any hurricane which approaches, or goes pass Jamaica from the south could devastate what’s left of the damaged houses on Caribbean Terrace near Harbour View in St Andrew East Rural, the residents, almost all squatters, are not leaving.

“Me know it not really safe but God always saves us,” said Sandra Walker, who claimed she lives in a house which her mother abandoned.

According to Walker, she would relocate if somewhere becomes available, but she faces the hurricane season each year without being worried.

“Any time the hurricane come, we ready for it. You ever notice that any time the hurricane comes no life has ever been lost here. We are always ready and if necessary all of we evacuate,” said fellow resident Audley Cameron, who lives in one of the houses badly damaged by storm surges in the past.

Cameron accepted that it is dangerous where he lives, just meters from the sea, which can become very dangerous when it gets angry, but argued that his neighbours are preparing for the season as best they can.

The preparation includes evacuation plans and packing up the old metals on the sea shore and taking them to the dump, to ensure they do not become projectiles if there is strong wind.

According to Cameron, people who live in the damaged houses have all been wrongly labelled squatters. He said he has the permission of the owner of the house in which he is living, despite the danger.

“Sometime a no live you want to live some place, but you know how life set. Me nuh waste time or money, so me nah capture nobody place. The owner fi this is here,” declared Cameron.

Fellow resident Courtney would not be drawn into confirming that he was among the squatters, but the Vauxhall High School graduate defended his decision to live with the annual hurricane danger.

“When a man don’t have anywhere to go, a man will find himself living in a condition that him can’t handle. Sometimes you will find a man living somewhere probably because him can’t get a better place so him just resign himself to this one,” said Courtney.

Having lived in a damaged house on Caribbean Terrace in the past, “Gaza Ras” is also facing the 2019 season without fear, but he knows the risk he is taking.

“The last time me move out everything and carry over the next side of the road, then me deh in my house and see the wave a come and me deh a mi window and see the wave just past me, so me say ‘wha, it look like me never have to move out me things them’,” he shared.

“But this trip me nah run no risk, because me see the wave lick mi friend place and when you look, sand full in deh,” declared Gaza Ras.

“If hurricane a come now, me a evacuate immediately. Leave. Me nah run no risk. Dem old building yah, at any time them can go when the rain start. You can just stand up and hear something drop and a piece of the building that.

“If you could give me a start mi would take it and move right now. With any start mi get from you mi would call a moving truck right now and leave and find somewhere go,” added Gaza Ras.

He said while he has been unsuccessful in his search for somewhere to relocate permanently, once there is the threat of a hurricane he will find shelter far from the property near the sea which he now calls home.

“Me a gwan look, but mi nah tek no chance. If anything gwaan me a go evacuate because me have other little family that me can run go hitch up until better come. If the place no damage, me can come back,” added Gaza Ras.

A conservative estimate has put the number of squatters in the decrepit and abandoned buildings at approximately 100, but residents in the section of Caribbean Terrace not damaged by hurricane claim that more than 200 men, women, and children live in the houses.

“The authorities are doing nothing about them until there is another hurricane and police, soldiers and fire fighters will have to put their lives at risk to save persons who should not have been there in the first place and who don’t have the good sense to move out of the danger,” said one resident who asked not to be named.

“But this is Jamaica. It is not a real country where the authorities are proactive and save people from themselves. Instead, we are reactive and mourn and bawl when the hurricane strikes,” added the resident.

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