Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 December 2014

Derry scientist's new hurricane anguish

A Londonderry-born scientist leading the battle to protect American coasts from hurricanes today said he fears for people in the path of the massive storm threatening Central America.

Greg Stone's team at Louisiana State University is responsible for informing government departments that make decisions about mass evacuations in the US, including New Orleans which was devastated when hit by Hurricane Katrina two years ago.

Mr Stone, who believes his interest in hurricanes was sparked when he witnessed the tail end of one tear the roof off Clondermot High School in Derry in 1961, is programme director of the Coastal Studies Institute at Louisiana State University.

Hurricane Felix, which was today lashing parts of the Gulf of Mexico, at one point reached a catastrophic Category 5 status, the second to do so in a fortnight after Hurricane Dean.

Planes shuttled tourists from Caribbean island resorts in a desperate airlift overnight as Felix bore down on Honduras and Belize.

But thousands of Miskito Indians were stranded along a swampy coastline where the storm was expected to hit.

In Belize city, tourists competed for the last seats on flights to Atlanta and Miami as police went door-to-door forcing evacuations.

Belize is still cleaning up after Hurricane Dean, which killed 28 people as it ploughed through the Caribbean.

This is only the fourth Atlantic hurricane season since 1886 with more than one Category 5 hurricane, according to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Mr Stone believes this rare occurrence will continue: "It appears we are experiencing an increase in powerful hurricanes."

He added that Felix was "a powerful and dangerous storm," adding: " I truly feel sorry for those in Honduras and the southern Gulf of Mexico. I must say, the international press is doing an abysmal job in covering these events in third world countries."

While Felix poses no threat to the south-east USA, the next threat to it may not be far away.

And Mr Stone believes the levee system in New Orleans, which caused havoc when it was breached during Hurricane Katrina, is still vulnerable.

The Derry man is haunted by memories of helplessness as he flew over the devastated city.

"For me, that was one of the lowest times of my life," he said.

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