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Costly Clean up
St Vincent Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves says his country has been hit by a disaster the likes of which citizens have never seen and the island will need hundreds of millions of dollars to rebuild. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar is assuring that T&T stands ready to assist both St Vincent and St Lucia with relief efforts and emergency supplies.
A release from the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) yesterday said emergency supplies were already on the way to St Vincent and the Grenadines and St Lucia, where a total of 13 people lost their lives after terrible floods wreaked havoc on the islands and damaged infrastructure. Several people are also still missing. The OPM said Persad-Bissessar, as chair of Caricom and lead prime minister on security in the region, spoke with Gonsalves yesterday on the situation in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
“They spoke of the extensive infrastructural damage, including flooding of the major hospital, the Milton Cato Memorial Hospital, and damage to the ET Joshua Airport and roads and bridges around the islands.” Persad-Bissessar assured Gonzalves T&T “is willing to assist St Vincent and the Grenadines with relief efforts and emergency supplies.”
“As such, an assessment team comprising Dr Stephen Ramroop, CEO of the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Management, and Rear Admiral Richard Kelshall, regional security co-ordinator in the Office of the Prime Minister, will be heading to St Vincent today to ascertain the needs of the islands. “Rear Admiral Kelshall is also scheduled to attend a meeting with Prime Minister Gonsalves following his initial assessment,” the OPM said.
It said emergency supplies were organised to be delivered to St Lucia yesterday on a Caribbean Airlines flight scheduled to leave T&T at 12.30 pm. That flight eventually left just before 4 pm because of difficulty in getting permission to land from the St Lucian authorities. Persad-Bissessar also received a call yesterday from Barbados Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, assuring his country stands ready to help with relief efforts for its Caricom partners.
The St Vincent government said it would need millions of dollars to rebuild the country, which has been battered by the disaster, which left eight dead and at least five others missing, Kenton Chance of the Caribbean News Agency reported yesterday. The report said Gonsalves, who returned to the island from a London holiday on Boxing Day, dubbed yesterday “Clean up Kingstown Day.” Kingstown is the capital of St Vincent.
“Let us work together, we will recover, we will rehabilitate this country and we will do it in the shortest possible time,” Gonsalves told the media in St Vincent, shortly after attending a meeting with disaster and emergency officials after his arrival home.
Gonsalves said according to the briefing he received, the country had experienced “a disaster of a proportion the likes of which we have not seen in living memory.” He said the destruction caused by a weather system called a trough resulted in the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars on the island, which has a population of 110,000. “Over the next few days, we will get a clearer picture as to the full extent,” he said.
Chance reported that the government advised yesterday that given the state of Kingstown, activity in the city should be kept at a minimum, and Gonsalves had called on all workers in essential services to report for duty. “I want to repeat, it is not a bank holiday but is essentially to clean up Kingstown,” Gonsalves reportedly told citizens. Gonsalves said getting to Kingstown from some areas would be difficult because of damaged roads.
He also expressed gratitude for lives spared. “As difficult as the circumstances are, we are fortunate to be alive,” Gonsalves said. “It pains me greatly. Those who have suffered material loss, I am also deeply pained and I give you my word I will do my best to help. We have had a very difficult hit.” He said when the dust settled, the St Vincent government would build a monument to those who died.
A T&T Guardian freelancer who is currently at home in St Vincent, Tenille Austin, said the northern half of the island, from Georgetown to Sancy, was cut off from Kingstown because the Caratal Bridge was broken in two. She said while electricity was restored in many areas, most of the country was in a mess and getting pipe-borne water remained a major problem. She said the country needed construction materials, food and water and help had been coming from T&T and Grenada.
A lot of farmers’ livestock died and fields of banana, a main crop in St Vincent, were lost in the floods, she said. Austin said in the Kingstown area, residents who spent Christmas Eve and Christmas Day without water have been assembling at the headquarters of the Central Water & Sewerage Authority (CWSA) to receive buckets of water from a tank in the yard. The CWSA has also been delivering truck-borne water to residents in other areas.
Austin, who lives near Kingstown, said she was not sure how villagers in the northern half of the island who were cut off have been faring. “A lot of the rivers overflowed their banks and the water may be dirty. But there are springs and standpipes.” Garth Saunders, CEO of the CWSA, told the local Searchlight newspaper it could cost EC$20 million to restore water to the island. He said 75 per cent of the country’s water supply was damaged, with eight of the 11 water systems being simultaneously put out of commission.
Dominica News Online yesterday reported the island’s Cabinet had met to plan the way forward after the Christmas disaster. Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit cut short his US vacation and returned home to deal with the mass flooding and destruction. “I have visited the persons and areas affected and I must say that it’s not a pleasant sight to have seen people in that state, especially during Christmas,” he said.
“The government has committed itself to assisting those affected, including the hotels of Ever Green and Anchorage.” The OPM release yesterday said T&T was ready to assist its Caricom neighbours, but no specific mention was made of Dominica, also severely affected by floods caused by a deadly weather system, but where no lives were reported lost. CEO of the Government Information Services Ltd Andy Johnson told the T&T Guardian he did not know if Dominica had asked for assistance.
“We are focusing on St Vincent and St Lucia,” he said. “The assistance to these countries was based on discussions the Prime Minister held with Dr Gonsalves and requests for assistance.” Johnson said if Dominica asked for help he was sure the request would be considered.
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