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A Christmas Day trail of death and destruction caused by a powerful weather system swept across the Eastern Caribbean islands of St Vincent and the Grenadines, St Lucia and Dominica yesterday, leaving 18 dead and several others missing up to press time. Heavy and prolonged rainfall caused by a trough, with strong winds turning in a counter-clockwise direction, resulted in devastating flooding which damaged homes, collapsed bridges and triggered power outages in the islands.
T&T, which was just at the southern tip of the trough and yesterday experienced similar weather in South and Central, was on full alert for any disaster. But by early evening, meteorologist Gary Benjamin said the bad weather appeared to have abated. He said there would have been some residual cloudiness last night from during the day and light showers in a few areas but a general improvement in weather conditions.
The Ministry of National Security, the Met Office and the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Management (ODPM) were closely monitoring the situation yesterday and all the relevant agencies were on full alert, the Guardian was told. Benjamin told the T & T Guardian while there was drizzle in Port-of-Spain, it rained heavily in other parts of the country. He said visibility was at times low at Piarco and there was widespread cloudiness.
He said T&T was just at the end of the rainy season and owing to heavy rainfall over the last two weeks, the ground was waterlogged. Prolonged rainfall could cause flash flooding in prone areas, he said. “Some abatement is expected by this evening or tonight.” Benjamin said the Met Office received no flood reports yesterday but said if the rainfall persisted, people living in flood-prone areas needed to watch out and those in high areas should look out for landslides.
Dr Stephen Ramroop, CEO of the ODPM, said from as early as 4.45 am Christmas morning, when he looked at the devastation in Dominica, he began speaking with his counterparts in the Caribbean. Ramroop, a director of the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA), said things were in place in T&T in the event of any disaster here.
National Security Minister Gary Griffith said all agencies were fully operational but up to yesterday there was nothing to indicate the situation here would be as severe as in the other islands. Griffith said his ministry was busy trying to reach the governments of the affected countries yesterday to offer assistance. “We are offering our assistance with security and to help co-ordinate support from other countries,” he said.
Gonsalves returns home
St Vincent Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves, who had gone to Rome, Italy to meet Pope Francis and was spending Christmas in London, was forced to cut short his visit and return home as the death toll on the island reached seven yesterday. Gonsalves is expected to return today. According to CANA reports, up to yesterday emergency rescue teams said they had recovered seven bodies, including those of a two-year-old baby boy and his 18-year-old sister.
Three others were missing and feared dead from the heavy flooding. In St Lucia three were reportedly killed and eight in Dominica. St Vincent, Dominica and St Lucia were the hardest hit countries. There were reports of widespread damage to roads, buildings and bridges on the islands. Several people were trapped in their homes and the ET Joshua Airport was closed because of flooding.
St Lucia tragedy
St Lucia News Online yesterday reported that a police officer was killed when a wall fell on him while he was trying to help people caught in the floods. There were also unconfirmed reports of two other deaths. In Dominica, officials said eight people died, including an 18-year-old college student. One man was reported missing.
News reports said torrential rains on Christmas Eve “turned the stretch of road from Castle Comfort to Roseau into a nightmare of mud, dirty water, snarled traffic, nervous pedestrians and flooded homes. Reports said Dominica was crowded with holiday tourists.
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