This was the warning sounded by Office of Disaster Preparedness and Management Agency (ODPM) Dr Stephen Ramroop following a meeting between members of the ODPM and Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar at the Diplomatic Centre, St Ann’s last evening.
Addressing a news conference after the meeting, Ramroop said, “We have informed the nation already that we are going to have a very active hurricane season. They (local and regional climatologists) are forecasting 18 named storms which will bring winds of over 39 miles per hour. We may have six hurricanes that will bring winds of over 74 miles per hour and three to four major hurricanes that will bring winds of over 112 miles per hour in the region.”
Ramroop said the country must be on alert for a major storm from now.
“We want to assume that it could hit us and that is why we want to be prepared. We know that God is a Trinidadian but we have to be very careful now. The evidence is that the risks of the hurricanes are coming lower down south, closer to the South American continent,” he said.
In light of the flooding at the Princess Elizabeth Centre in Port-of-Spain, after heavy rainfall on Saturday, which was classified as a level one emergency, national incident response teams will be established to respond to such emergencies whenever they arise, Ramroop added.
As for handling of the flooding emergency at the centre, which provides care and health services to physically-challenged children, Ramroop felt the Fire Services responded promptly and the children there were evacuated safely. However, he felt there was a lag in the rehabilitation works after the flooding at the centre and this would be addressed.
Ramroop added that the ODPM is developing early warning systems and preparedness is key to how the country deals with a natural disaster. Ramroop said this was reflected in the fact that this year’s earthquake in Japan resulted in 20,000 persons being killed but 232,000 persons were killed in an earthquake last year in Haiti.
Defence Force Chief of Staff Brigadier Kenrick Maharaj, Chief Fire Officer Carl Williams and Supermarkets Association President Vernon Persad all advised the Prime Minister that their respective organisations were ready to respond to any natural disaster which could affect the country. Persad said his group would be able to provide meals for disaster victims within 20 minutes of an incident occurring.
In response, Persad-Bissessar said, “We cannot stop the flooding but certainly we can attempt to improve our responses in dealing with what are natural disasters. We need to work on alleviating the flooding as far as we can, it will take time and whilst we are taking that time to get infrastructural works done, it is very important that we are more prepared to deal with such emergencies when they arise.”
Recalling the severe flooding which the country experienced last year immediately after last May’s general election, Persad-Bissessar said, “We were not all prepared for that deluge that we faced in our first six months in office.”
The Prime Minister said this year, “we are better off than we were last year but as I say, there is always room for improvement.”
Stating that the agencies under National Security Minister Brigadier John Sandy have been doing their best to prepare in the dry season, Persad-Bissessar said, “Now we will be put to the test.” While she was confident that efforts by the Works and Transport Ministry to mitigate flooding this year are up to mark, the Prime Minister could not give any idea of the scope of those works and advised reporters to speak with Works and Transport Minister Jack Warner.
Persad-Bissessar was also unable to give an update on talks which Warner had with a Dutch firm about developing a plan to deal with flooding in Port-of-Spain. She asked reporters to talk to Warner on that matter as well.
Persad-Bissessar added that during the course of the year, Cabinet did approve expenditure for drainage and infrastructural works which are being done on a phased basis.