ST. VINCENT: – The Dr. Ralph Gonsalves administration has appealed for regional and international assistance to rebuild the country after Hurricane Tomas left “millions and millions of dollars in damage”.
There have been no confirmed reports of loss of life but two person sustained severe injuries while repairing a roof during the passage of the storm which battered St. Vincent and St. Lucian on Saturday, Oct. 31.
Some 1000 persons were in emergency centres, including 300 in Sandy Bay on the north-eastern coast, and one ship had run aground in the Brighton area, also on the east coast.
“I am appealing for regional and international assistance. I will myself make the formal appeals to our friends, our developmental partners. Some of them have missions here in St. Vincent and the Grenadines and we have friend in the region too. We need some quick emergency assistance to get ourselves back on our feet in the shortest possible time,” Gonsalves said on radio on Sunday, Oct. 31.
Gonsalves used the medium to summon his Cabinet members to a meeting on Monday, Nov. 1, at 8 a.m.
A tropical storm warning remained in effect for St. Vincent midday Sunday, Oct. 31, Eastern Caribbean time as the hurricane moved out to sea on a course that could see it reaching Jamaica later this week.
“We are looking at millions and millions of dollars in damage,” Gonsalves said, adding that it might cost an average of EC$30,000 to repair each of the houses severely damaged by the storm.
“Three hundred houses, that’s just $9 million. You take agriculture: all the bananas are flat, the plantains, — many fruit trees are down. We have to get money for the reconstruction of the agriculture, the rehabilitation of the agriculture. But in the meantime, you have to find money for income support for the families while we are replanting,” said Gonsalves, who is also minister of finance and economic development.
He said roads have been “severely damage” even as preliminary assessments were still pending for some areas, including the “farming belt”.
“I am sure that we have had bridges damaged, culverts taken out. … We wouldn’t know that until the next couple of days when we do all the assessment. Those are millions and millions of dollars. And the damage to the coastal areas again will be millions and millions of dollars,” Gonsalves said.
He said the state would also have to find monies to restore schools and other public building damaged by the storm.
“This is a big blow to us coming on two years of economic challenges arising from the global financial and economic meltdown.”
Gonsalves called on citizens to be further unite “in this period of national disaster and real challenge” even as he asked for patience.
“I want to ask immediately for patience. We’ve heard one or two calls, discarding voices on the radio. Please, if one area has electricity before you, don’t start to think that there is sometime malevolent or any ill will,” he said, explaining that the state-owned electricity company was trying to restore power to the entire nation.
“Please, let us have patience …. This is an event which has happened over which we have had no control. It is an act of God — act of nature — and that is where we are at the moment,” he said, adding that his government will try its best to help persons in emergency shelters.
Gonsalves, who also has ministerial responsibility for disaster management spoke on radio again mid-morning Sunday from Colonaire in eastern St. Vincent.
He said he was hoping to travel to Fancy, the northernmost community in eastern St. Vincent while Deputy Prime Minister Sir Louis Straker was travelled to the western side of the island. He said there were no reports of significant damage in the Grenadines.
He said that at least one lane of the road from Kingstown to Rabacca had been cleared.
“The banana fields are all flat … we said earlier [there were] in excess of 300 houses, well I would expect the number will be rising sharply in terms of houses destroyed. Because I met many persons whose houses were damaged late last night and the reports have not yet gotten in to NEMO. So it’s a bad hit, no questions about it, and particularly on the north-eastern side of the island and also the northwest, the whole northern part,” Gonsalves said.
“We have to act with expedition, with real speed and in a focused manner. I’m right now in an area called Villa Point and the river is eroding the sides of the bank and it is a precipitous fall and there is a house which is in real danger – a good wall house; but the river has been awesome. …
“… [A] battering of over 75 miles per hour over several hours and with such torrential rains, the total fallout is horrific. It is going to take a while to get this going but we have to act with speed, with fortitude, and we have to thank Almighty God that we haven’t had any loss of life,” he said.
He said he was expecting the National Emergency Management Office (NEMO) to discontinue the tropical storm warning for the island.
He however said that citizens should remain indoors even after the watch is discontinued.
“… [T]there is a lot of work to be done on the roads and it does not make sense that you have traffic on the road which is not necessary traffic, because you are only going to restrict the pace of the cleaning up because in several areas, at the moment, you only have one lane. And you can see the backup of traffic if you have a lot of traffic and one lane only,” Gonsalves said.
Callers to the state-owned National Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) reported varying degree of damage to infrastructure and agriculture across the country.
Telecommunications provide LIME said it was waiting the lifting of the tropical storm watch to restore cellular phone service to some.
The company said some of its towers had been damaged and the generators at other sites had used up all their fuel since the electricity grid was shut down overnight.
Meteorologist Alan Archer told NBC that at 5 a.m. Eastern Caribbean time, the centre of the storm was located some 130 miles to the west north-west of St. Lucia and was moving at eight miles per hour (MPH), having slowed down.