She praised the Tobago Emergency Management Authority (TEMA) and the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Management (ODPM) for their efforts and spirit of cooperation in spite of the trauma experienced by Tobagonians when Tomas hit late Saturday night.
Persad-Bissessar spoke to members of the media at the Diplomatic Centre in St Ann’s after she returned from an aerial tour of areas affected by flooding and landslides in Tobago. Accompanying her on the tour were Minister of National Security Brigadier John Sandy and the Acting Chief Executive Officer of the Office of Disaster Preparedness (ODPM) Colonel Rodney Smart. The party was flown to Tobago on Sunday afternoon and conducted a second tour yesterday morning.
Persad-Bissessar and her team later landed in a national security helicopter at the Queen’s Park Savannah, Port-of-Spain, at about 2.30 pm, where she was at first scheduled to hold a media conference but later moved the briefing to the Diplomatic Centre when it began to rain.
Dressed casually in jeans and a blue and white striped shirt, Persad-Bissessar said she was flown over north-east Tobago before being taken to Delaford on land where she met the THA’s Deputy Chief Secretary Hilton Sandy.
“Thank God the damage is not substantial but it’s still sufficient to cause grief to many,” she said. “I was very happy today (yesterday). The response was almost immediate... ODPM and TEMA are fully mobilised, on the ground and at work... They are out doing clean-up work and bringing relief where they can.”
In an earlier interview with Newsday from Tobago, TEMA’s Information Officer, Alex Brown, said there were reports of landslides on the northern and eastern sides of Tobago where several homes and roadways were affected and two homes in Delaford were destroyed. There were also reports of flooding in the low-lying southwestern and central areas. Speyside High School and Roxborough Secondary School were both affected by flooding and from all indications, will be re- opened this week. During the media briefing in Port-of-Spain, Persad-Bissessar confirmed two homes were destroyed in Delaford and said the THA will determine what assistance will be provided to owners. Persad-Bissessar also said Central Government is willing to help in the relief efforts for Tobago but noted its actions will have to be guided by the THA.
“There is money within the THA Budget to get the immediate works done in the short-term,” she explained. “There are some matters that will take longer because many houses in Tobago are built on the slopes. It shows the need for the strengthening of building codes and land reform in some way,” she said.
Earlier, Brown told Newsday there was an island-wide blackout early Sunday morning but electricity was restored to most areas in Tobago a few hours later. Power was expected to be restored to other areas by late yesterday. Brown said while roads were physically clear, many were still wet and slippery with mud thereby hampering TTEC vehicles from servicing those areas.
In a statement last evening, WASA said its water production facilities were shut down because of electrical failure, high turbidity (muddy) and clogged intakes but supplies were restored to most areas by yesterday.
Those facilities which remained out of operation were King’s Bay Water Treatment Plant, Hillsborough West, Highlands Road Water Treatment Plant and Charlotteville Intake. As a consequence, customers in Delaford, King’s Bay, Speyside, Charlotteville, Hope, John Dial, Bacolet and Mason Hall remained without a water supply. WASA said it expected to restore services by tomorrow, but in the interim they will receive a limited truck-borne water supply.
WASA said its crews did restore operations at Richmond Water Treatment Plant, Courland Water Treatment Plant and Bloody Bay Water Treatment Plant.
Tomas formed last Friday afternoon and dumped more than 71 mm of rainfall on Tobago over a 12-hour period between Saturday night and Sunday morning.
As a tropical storm Tomas also had a direct hit on Barbados, before moving on as a hurricane to St Vincent and St Lucia, and yesterday Tomas was on course for Jamaica. There were reports of 12 deaths in St Lucia.
In terms of assisting the region, Persad-Bissessar stated Minister of Local Government Chandresh Sharma has organised two containers of food, some of which will be sent to St Vincent and the balance will be distributed to other Caricom countries. The food was donated by private citizens and stored at seven relief centres set up by Sharma earlier this year. Persad-Bissessar said she received a call from Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines Dr Ralph Gonsalves, yesterday morning, and Gonsalves told her that Tomas had destroyed 600 homes, damaged infrastructure and totally devastated St Vincent’s agriculture sector.
Persad-Bissessar also disclosed Foreign Affairs Minister Dr Surujrattan Rambachan has been in touch with Barbados and St Lucia’s Foreign Affairs Ministers and who were conducting assessments in countries to see how TT could help.
However, Persad-Bissessar said she had to speak with her Cabinet colleagues and Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley to discuss what further relief TT can be provided to the other Caribbean islands that have been badly hit. “We will have to look at ways we are able to assist but, if you recall my comments earlier this year, there must be some way that TT will also benefit.”
Persad-Bissessar noted that when Tomas hit Barbados it was still in the category of a storm so the damage has not been as devastating as St Vincent and St Lucia. As far as she was aware, the funeral for the late Prime Minister of Barbados David Thompson will still take place tomorrow. She will lead a TT delegation to Thompson’s funeral which will also comprise Rambachan and cricket star Brian Lara.
Persad-Bissessar had been criticised by Rowley for “panicking the country for a cloud”, but yesterday she said the decision to place TT on a tropical storm warning last Friday was based on the professional advice of all related government agencies. She said it helped to prepare Tobago for the impact of Tomas.
“The damage in Tobago is very real. Many of the roads were impassable because of the landslips but because of the alert we went on and the mobilisation of forces, they have cleaned quite a lot of it,” she said. “I acted on the professional advice I received and I make no apology for it. I’m quite happy that I did do so because if we were not prepared then the damage in Tobago certainly would have been far greater. It is my respectful view that the government acted responsibly,” she said.