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Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar greets residents of Tobago during a tour yesterday of areas affected by Tomas. (Photo: Trinidad Express)

ST. VINCENT: – There will be strings attached to any aid Trinidad and Tobago gives to Caribbean Community (CARICOM) nations affected by Hurricane Tomas last weekend.

The Kamla Persad-Bissessar administration in Port-of-Spain has said that her oil-rich nation will only assist if her country stands to benefit, the Trinidad Express newspaper has reported.

Last weekend, St Vincent, Barbados and St Lucia found themselves in the eye of Hurricane Tomas, now headed possibly to Haiti and Jamaica.

Some parts of Tobago were also affected.

Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves of St. Vincent and the Grenadines has appealed for regional and international assistance as the nation begins rebuilding after the hurricane.

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Tomas left EC$65 million (US$24 million) in damage to the agricultural sector and damaged 1,200 houses.

Northern St. Vincent has been declared a “disaster area”, schools are closed and hundreds of residents are in emergency shelters even as utilities are yet to be reconnected in some areas.

The storm also cut a path of destruction and disruption across Barbados and St Lucia.

It first pounded Barbados early Saturday morning as a tropical storm, ripping roofs off houses, cutting power lines and blowing down trees.

Castries has said 12 people were confirmed dead and the toll could rise as several communities across St. Lucia remained cut off Monday following widespread destruction.

Early predictions were that the damage to the island could surpass US$100 million (EC$270 million).

Persad-Bissessar told reporters in Port-Of-Spain on Monday, Nov. 1, that her twin-island republic stands ready to assist its CARICOM neighbours.

She however said aid would only come after discussions with her Cabinet colleagues and the Opposition Leader, and that any aid must in some way benefit the country.

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“We will have to look at ways in which we would be able to assist. But you would recall my comments earlier this year, when I said there must some way in which Trinidad and Tobago would also benefit,” she said.

“So if we are giving assistance with housing for example, and that is one of the areas that we (Prime Minister of St Vincent and myself) spoke about, … then we may be able to use Trinidad and Tobago builders and companies, so that whatever money or assistance is given, redounds back in some measure to the people of Trinidad and Tobago,” she added.

Persad-Bissessar earlier this year told her CARICOM colleagues that Port-of-Spain was not CARICOM’s automated teller machine card.

She said this week that Gonsalves had telephoned her, while Foreign Affairs Minister Suruj Rambachan had been in contact with his counterparts in Barbados and St Lucia.

She said her conversation with her Cabinet colleagues and the Leader of the Opposition would discuss a proposal to marry the benefit to Trinidad and Tobago with assistance given to the countries that have been very badly hit.

Persad-Bissessar’s comment came even as she told reporters that Gonsalves had told her “not a plantain or banana tree was standing” and as Barbados and St Lucia were doing needs assessment.

Port-of-Spain has mobilised through the Minister of Local Government, two containers of foodstuff, and it would make a decision where to send it, but “certainly to St Vincent,” Persad-Bissessar said.

Forecasters have predicted that the storm might hit Haiti and Jamaica later this week.

Persad-Bissessar said her government would have to consider assistance to Haiti again “but it would do nothing unless the Cabinet discusses it and the Leader of the Opposition is consulted”.