More T&T help might be ahead for St Lucia. St Lucia is facing a (TT) $3 billion–(US) $500 million–reconstruction bill to rise from the devastation which Tropical storm Tomas inflicted on the little island last weekend. And Government may be looking to see "whatever part" of this it can contribute to and help with. St Lucian Prime Minister Stephenson King yesterday informed T&T Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar of the reconstruction cost and showed her first-hand, the destruction caused by Tomas when Persad-Bissessar visited St Lucia yesterday.
She told King T&T "will put its helping hands forward and see whatever part of the reconstruction bill it could contribute to and assist with." Seven people are confirmed dead in St Lucia as a result of Tomas' passage and seven more people are still missing and feared dead. Yesterday's tour by the T&T group–including private sector leaders–which Persad-Bissessar headed, followed assistance which Government sent to the island earlier in the week. The Prime Minister arrived hours ahead of a second shipment of supplies from T&T which steamed into St Lucia aboard a T&T Coast Guard vessel yesterday evening.
Yesterday's tour confirmed that Tomas inflicted heavy water damage which the island was still trying to rise above, six days after the storm. While the capital of Castries has been cleared, outlying areas, particularly in the north and in the Soufriere district, were hard hit and still remain heavily affected. Landslides, fallen trees and logs, downed power lines and mud, silt and slush are everywhere in those areas. Roadways also have caved in.
In one northern area of Bexon–i n St Lucia's Central Range–a river was so swollen by the heavy rains that it broke its banks, changed course and took over a school's playing field. Touring those territories, Persad-Bissessar also brought her own brand of Divali light to the island yesterday by handing over hampers to residents of northern St Lucia which she visited. Before the tour, King, thanking Persad-Bissessar for her effort, said: "We've been speaking in recent days and I got the feeling of your concern and your determination to help in one way or another. Immediately on telling you of our concerns, within 24 hours you put together a shipment of water for us." Communities in St Lucia's interior were tremendously affected where infrastructure, property and agriculture were concerned.
These fallen banana trees are only a tiny fraction of the number of such downed trees which produce St Lucia's main source of income. This year's crop has been devastated by Tropical Storm Tomas.
King added: "It's had a very big impact on our economy. It has wiped out 100 per cent of our main agricultural product–bananas–and 60 per cent of our other crops. "So within the next three months, we're likely to have a food crisis." He said his Government hoped to activate mechanisms to help banana farmers back into action within six to nine months and also to get the others back on track to supply St Lucia's tourism sector. King said St Lucia's north and south have been cut off from each other due damaged sustained by its road network. This has affected transport of goods and business overall. "Water is a major problem since the island's production level has fallen from eight million gallons to five million and turbidity is affecting current supply." King added. He said an entire Soufriere community would have to be relocated since it was wiped out by mudslides.
He added: "This is a picture of great challenge. One that needs the level of support that our friends, brothers and sisters can bring. "The reconstruction effort will run to the tune of well over at least (US)$500 million in rebuilding schools, building new communities, installing infrastructure and getting the country back on its feet. "Bringing back the economic and social infrastructure... we're talking a reconstruction bill of the vicinity of (US)$500 million." King said that would span over a year of construction. Thanking Persad-Bissessar for "coming and pouring out your heart to St Lucia," King said: "We know T&T stands with us as a sister nation." King said Persad-Bissessar was giving from "her home" to St Lucia and his island could not expect her to give all. Persad-Bissessar said no strings were attached to T&T's humanitarian aid.
A booted-up T&T's Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, right, being shown damaged areas by Member of Parliament for Castries South, Guy Joseph, who is also St Lucia's Minister of Works and Public Utiliities.
For the reconstruction effort, she said supplies that were needed for housing and roadways would be made available to whatever extent was possible. Persad-Bissessar told King: "You have given us a very large bill, it sounds like about (TT)$3 billion but I know you don't intend for all of that to rest on our shoulders." King replied: "Absolutely not..." Persad-Bissessar added: " But we will put out our helping hands forward and see whatever part of that we can contribute to and to assist." She said T&T was committed to the effort and local companies were keen to help St Lucia. Persad-Bissessar said T&T could also supply housing and construction assistance with expertise and supplies where T&T had them.
King dismissed controversy about her initial statements of assistance. King said: "Sometime we have to be tolerant and more understanding of what regional leaders say. "What Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar said to us is that she will give from out of her 'home', but may not be able to shop for us. "That's the condition she's offering. Many times in international politics we also have to accept conditions from organisations or groups." Following the tour, NH chairman Emile Elias said private sector members would wait to hear what Govenrment needed to offer. He said great assistance in rebuilding communities could be provided. Fire One's Andre Abraham also said the visit had provided more encouragement to help St Lucia.
The touring group:
The Prime Minister's husband Dr Gregory Bissessar, NH International executive head, Emile Elias, Contractors Association president Mikey Joseph, Supermarkets Association chairman Feroz Khan, TTMA's Greig Laughlin, TCL's Rawlins Bertrand, Fire One Fireworks' Andre Abraham, Blue Waters' Dominic Hadeed, T&T Chamber's Moonilal Lalchan, Defence Force members, Ministers Stephen Cadiz, Roodal Moonilal, Chandresh Sharma, Emmanuel George, HDC's Jearlean John and T&T media.