Fake News has finally made its way into hurricane reporting – thanks to the social media and so-called ‘i-reporters’ excited by adding fuel to fires of natural human uncertainty in a time of grief across the region.
Unfortunately, some of the better IT-minded citizens see nothing wrong in downloading and sharing false photos of other disasters at other times and in other places and presenting them as having happened somewhere in the Caribbean during Irma’s deadly passage through the island.
As with the prevalence of Fake News everywhere else, one has to first question whether some of the images landing in your inbox is real or fake, happened here or there, now or long ago.
That said, I will also say that if necessity is truly the mother of invention and resilience and innovation reign supreme in times of crisis, this is nowhere more so than in the Caribbean, as again manifested during this year’s hurricane season, where innovators remained in perpetual motion.
Those acclimatized to the daily rigors of constantly changing weather patterns and effects of flooding in Guyana easily transform discarded freezers into boats to ferry people heading to work from one side of a flooded street to another, whatever the cause of the flood.
Their invention, uploaded and downloaded across the region after a recent weather phenomenon in Georgetown, was readily put to use in several of the islands earlier this week affected by Hurricane Irma.
A high-up family strapped an oversized life-vest on a dog in low-land Barbados, if only to ensure the posh poodle could float alongside the rubber dinghy should need be.
Another innovative Caribbean mind elsewhere packed an open-back van with dozens of newly-purchased life jackets, just perchance the garage got flooded.
And yet another strapped his entire house to ground using cargo slings tied to specially dug iron and concrete pegs.
And then there’s my best pick - a contractor somewhere who secured a site hut with an excavator, as seen in a photograph posted through social media during Irma’s unwelcome visit to the region.
But don’t be surprised by anything you see and believe, as this is also a region where many veteran fishermen can’t swim.
And unlike Venetian Marco Polo chronicling China’s early history without being able to read and write, one Caribbean writer wrote a single poem 365 pages long that earned the region a hallowed Nobel Prize for Literature…
Generally, Caribbean people warm-up to the changing climate in close-up ways.
Most hardly pay attention to the daily weather report (even in the annual Hurricane season), only tuning-in when a weather system is approaching directly - and even then, only getting serious when the rain falls harder, the wind blows heavier, waves start rising faster and the sea gets rougher.
Four decades ago, Caribbean people depended on HAM radio and daily broadcasts of German-owned Radio Antilles from Montserrat to find out what’s happening in each island throughout every hurricane season.
But with radio frequencies today more tuned through the internet, communication beyond borders is as difficult during bad weather as trying to place an overseas call through a telephone exchange before Direct Dialing.
Old cultural habits also die hard in a region where fishermen still prefer to depend on landmarks than trust a compass or a donated marine telephone featuring Global Position Systems (GPS).
Elder fishermen still also largely take their daily weather forecasts by reading the wind according to how the tallest pine trees swing, accusing radio and TV weather forecasters of having cheated them of a day’s catch once too many.
Caribbean businesses also generally take a profitable business approach to bad weather predictions.
To avoid paying a day’s pay for no work if the worst doesn’t come to pass, business executives tend to wait until the last minute to pronounce on whether or how much time staff can get to tend to their families and homes also threatened by the emergency.
Same with government departments, especially as relates to allowing teachers and students a day off due to predicted bad weather.
Interestingly, in Saint Lucia, a sports stadium donated by China two decades ago was ten years later converted to an emergency hospital after a hurricane hit – and has remained so since then.
But ordinary Caribbean citizens also always find ways, not only to ‘Beat the System’ but also to even try to cheat death itself.
A businessman on Dutch St Martin who left his telephone’s video camera rolling at his store to record any looters (after being been earlier convinced by relatives to flee) startled friends at whom he was safely staying, when he left in the middle of the whirlwind melee saying he was going to check on his temporary CCTV camera, as he’d estimated its battery life had ended.