ST. VINCENT:- St. Vincent and the Grenadines has activated it emergency preparation and response protocols as Tropical Storm Tomas is upgraded to hurricane status as it makes its way towards the Windward Islands.
At 8 a.m. Eastern Caribbean time Saturday, Tomas was located 70 miles southeast of St. Lucia and had sustained winds of 70 miles per hour. The storm is moving to the west-northwest at 15 miles per hour.
Barbados, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Martinique have all issued hurricane warnings.
The weather system was still a storm when it blew off the roofs of several buildings, uprooted trees and utility poles and made several roads impassable in Barbados, 90 miles east of St. Vincent, according to the Caribbean Media Corporation.
Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, who has ministerial responsibilities for disaster management, addressed the nation by radio shortly after 9 a.m. on Saturday, urging citizens to take the necessary precautions.
“Please take precaution. Remember that we are under a hurricane warning. The Tropical Storm Tomas has developed into hurricane force winds,” he said.
“People don’t want to leave their homes and go to the [emergency] shelters but please think of yourself, your family, your children, and especially if you have young children. Be safe rather than sorry,” Gonsalves further said.
“Businesses will remain closed today as the storm approaches so as to protect life and property,” Gonsalves said, adding that he had had discussion with the local Chamber of Industry and Commerce.
“…[ A]ll the arrangements have been made in that regard. When we are at that stage, there are a lot of details we have to — there is a checklist of details and we all have to help and we all have to protect ourselves,” he further said.
Gonsalves said that the E.T. Joshua airport, the largest of the nation’s five airports, will remain closed until 4 p.m. Eastern Caribbean time and a further advisory will be made in that regard.
He said heavy duty equipment from the government and the private sector has been deployed to strategic locations across the country to clear roads if the need arise.
“The National Emergency Management Officer — NEMO– and the Meteorological Office will continue to monitor Tomas and update you via your local radio station on its progress,” he said.
Telecommunications provider Digicel has sent text message advisories to its subscribers and Gonsalves said the company has been very helpful.
“I want to say that all the utilities are carrying out their responsibilities …. The CWSA will not be collecting garbage today. Arrangements will be made to collect what they were supposed to collect today very soon but we are focussing all attention on making sure we have our water supply and if we have to cut off the water that there will be water trucks with water,” Gonsalves said.
He said that the 14 activities that have to be done in preparation for an impending disaster have been done or are being done.
Emergency vehicles had been refuelled and their usage restricted. Further, government ministries and departments will inform the National Emergency Operations Centre of the completion of all pre-hurricane activities.
“And we urge all the ministries and departments to take care of the records of the government. Make sure they are safe. And, if you don’t have anywhere safe, contact the director and she would have space to put records which are very important,” Gonsalves said.
He said the NEMO staff has been at work all night even as loud speakers and text messages have been used to relay information to the public.
“Number seven says that the prime minister assume direct control of the activation of the nation plan and confirms with the ministers that all pre-hurricane activities have been carried out. I have done that and I am in control directly of the national plan as we stand at the moment,” Gonsalves said.
He further said that radio and television stations have been contacted and were working in cooperation with the director of the NEMO.
The director of the NEMO has brief the chairpersons of emergency response teams at the community level and was working with the local Meteorological office and storm watcher internationally.
“NEMO has been issuing and will continue to issue a series of instructions to the public on safety measures,” Gonsalves said, adding that health officials had informed him that “all the medical station and clinics are in order with the necessary medication in the case of an emergency”.
“Now, we have to think about what happens after. So already we have subcommittees in place to identify what we have to do if it is unfortunate that a tragedy of being struck by the hurricane,” Gonsalves said.
“We pray Almighty God that we will be spared. And, if in His mercy, He sees further to protect and bless us always, we would be forever grateful. Let us stand firm. Let us protect our families. Let us protect our communities. May God bless all of us until I speak to you again,” Gonsalves said.
Gonsalves addressed the nation even as radio stations announced the cancellations of social and other activities across the country.
The Seventh Day Adventist Church cancelled all services and advised congregants to remain indoors.
Radio announcers reported downed power lines in Coulls Hill on western St. Vincent.
I Witness-New received reports that the roof of at least one house was blown off in Sandy Hill on the north-eastern coast.
“Mostly everything has been put on hold, cancelled for today,” radio announcer Randy “Randy D” Dopwell said on his show on Nice Radio.
Tomas is one of two weather systems affecting the Caribbean region.
Tropical Storm Shary has strengthened into a hurricane and is moving away from Bermuda. Shary is the 11th hurricane of the season and is is expected to weaken into a tropical storm later today and become a remnant low overnight tonight, according to forecasters.