KINGSTON — It will take at least $125 million to repair flattened farmland, rutted roads, broken bridges and eroded beaches across storm-staggered Jamaica, the island’s leader announced.
During his first address to parliament since the outer bands of Tropical Storm Nicole ripped across Jamaica, Prime Minister Bruce Golding delivered a preliminary repair bill while cautioning lawmakers that a more detailed assessment was still being carried out.
“The cost to repair the damage and provide assistance to those severely dislocated will impact significantly on the country’s delicate fiscal situation,” Golding said.
Nicole fizzled out over the Atlantic after maintaining storm status for just six hours but not before the broad system’s outer bands triggered deadly floods and landslides across Jamaica that killed 13 islanders and left at least two more missing over four days. Some rural communities were left marooned by impassable roads.
Workers are repairing thousands of water-logged buildings, cracked pipes and crumbling streets across the tropical island where many residents were taken by surprise by the ferocity of the rains and the extent of the damage.
Cleaning up the torn infrastructure may be a much quicker task than repairing the financial damage caused by the storm to Jamaica, which was granted a $1.27 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund earlier this year.
Golding said Finance Minister Audley Shaw planned to brief IMF officials in Washington this week on the damage and the impact it is likely to have on the island’s two-year program to recover from mounting government debt and the effects of the global economic crisis.
“These discussions will determine the extent to which the program will be adjusted to take account of the expenditure that must be undertaken as a matter of urgency to effect repairs and reconstruction,” Golding said.
In an e-mail to The Associated Press, Gene Leon, the IMF’s senior resident representative to the island, said “once the Jamaican authorities have assessed the damage, we will discuss together how we may assist, noting the exceptional and unpredictable nature of this event.”
Losses of crops and livestock stood at roughly $6 million. The education and health sectors across the Caribbean country each suffered over $1 million in damage. Golding said his preliminary repair bill includes about $20 million to mend roads “as well as structures that pose a danger to life and property.”
Jamaica’s banana companies were focusing on replanting plantations of the staple fruit flattened by Nicole.
“It’s pretty bad but it’s a plant that recovers quickly so we’re not overly pessimistic,” said Bobby Pottinger, president of the Banana Growers Association.
The island’s high-end Blue Mountain coffee bean industry also took a hit. The coffee beans are one of the world’s most expensive varieties, selling for roughly $30 a pound.
“Tropical Storm Nicole has disrupted the lives of our farmers in a significant way, most severely by the heavy damage to roads, drains and water systems. Some farmers have suffered some crop loss but early estimates are in the 5 to 10 percent region,” said Chris Gentles, director general of the Coffee Industry Board of Jamaica.
Jamaica’s resorts are expected to bounce back quickly despite beach erosion, said Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett.
Some Kingston residents said the weather havoc simply comes with living on the Caribbean island.
“My island got all mashed up, pulled up. But some weather come and rip us up bad and this one definitely got us bad,” said taxi driver Dean Brown. “But you got to keep moving.”
Photo: Jamaica Prime Minister Bruce Golding