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St Lucia PM: We need US$500 million to rebuild

By Darcel Choy Saturday, November 6 2010

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PRIME MINISTER Kamla Persad-Bissessar says while the cost to reconstruct St Lucia after the devastation of Hurricane Tomas last week could not rest on TT’s shoulders alone, her Government remained committed to assisting their Caribbean neighbour.

The Prime Minister gave the assurance after touring parts of St Lucia which was devastated by last week’s hurricane.

She was on a humanitarian aid effort, which she has dubbed the Helping Hand Initiative.

Leading the PM on the tour was her counterpart, St Lucian Prime Minister Stephenson King who revealed that it will cost US$500 million to reconstruct the country after it was devastated by Hurricane Tomas last Sunday.

He expects reconstruction efforts to last a year.

The two leaders spoke at King’s official residence in Vigie, St Lucia.

Persad-Bissessar, a Hindu, spent her Divali holiday touring the Caribbean island with some of her Cabinet ministers, as well as ministers of King’s Cabinet.

She informed the St Lucian prime minister that containers of relief supplies were expected to arrive in St Lucia by late evening.

She added that there were no strings attached to the humanitarian aid provided to St Lucia from Trinidad and Tobago.

As she responded to King’s assertions on the cost to reconstruct the island, PM Persad-Bissessar said, “The cost to reconstruct St Lucia is a very large bill. All of that cannot rest on our shoulders but we would put a helping hand. We have the soldiers from the ODPM and the engineering core who stand ready to assist,” she told him.

At about 10.20 am, the Prime Minister along with government ministers, members of the private sector, officials from the Office of Disaster and Preparedness Management (ODPM) and media personnel left Trinidad to visit the island.

At about 12.13 pm, King met with Persad-Bissessar, and he thanked her for her Government’s timely assistance.

“We have been speaking for the last three days and I felt your concerns and your determination to assist us one way or the other. Within 24 hours, we got a shipment and we want to commend you for your efforts,” he said.

King said Tomas did a lot of damage to St Lucia’s agriculture and he expressed concern that this will lead to a food shortage on the island in the coming months.

“That has had a big impact on the economy. As of today, the country is without an export product, a product that we have had for 38 years. As well as, 60 percent of other food crops have been wiped out and it will take three or four months to restart the agriculture sector. In the next few months there may likely be a food crisis and it will take some time to bring back the banana industry to commence production to sustain our foreign market,” King said.

He lamented the fact that the northern and southern parts of the island were disconnected because of fallen bridges and blocked roads, causing a major interference with transportation.

“The movement of goods and services are disconnected, the north is completely severed. We cannot deliver goods from north to the south,” he said.

Power lines across the island also fell and teams were busy trying to restore power to parts of St Lucia.

King said there was an entire community in Soufriere, on the island’s west coast, that was wiped out.

“It is a whole community that in the long term we need to relocate and get them out and build it over,” he said.

King said, however, they were successful in restoring about 90 percent of the country’s electricity service.

He said his main concern, now, was the water situation in the country, as many people have no access to clean drinking water since the hurricane hit.

“We have not been able to produce the capacity of water that we need particularly in the north of the country. The main dam which is our main source of water produces eight million gallons a day. The north of the island is the main tourist belt so a tremendous amount of water is used. We have not been able to reinstate it. There is a lot of help that has come, including from the US Armed Forces, to try and reactivate the system. When we get that going, we would be able to produce at least three million gallons a day,” he said.

As he responded to statements made by Persad-Bissessar as it related to long-term disaster aid, King said he understood what she meant.

“Many times in international politics, when you accept assistance there are conditions that are not publicly stated, When you sign an EPA, these are the conditions you sign,” he said. The prime ministers toured parts of Castries, Mac and Bexon to get a first hand look at the devastation caused.

PM Persad-Bissessar also handed out food hampers to appreciative and excited residents, who thanked her for visiting their island.

St Lucia was filled with dust and dirt.

Many citizens were dressed in boots, armed with shovels, wheelbarrows and anything they could get to try to remove the mud, silt and debris that invaded their homes.

Banana trees lay like broken dolls on the hillsides and streets looked like garbage dumps, as residents were forced to throw away damaged furniture and appliances.

Roads were eaten away by landslides and workmen were busy attempting to clear the debris and do their best to mend the roads that had caved in.

Red Cross officials were also assisting families, mostly providing them with water.

One official said, “We have to get these people clean water, as soon as possible, it is important for their survival.”

Tomas killed at least 14 people when it slammed St. Lucia as a hurricane.

Accompanying the Prime Minister on the humanitarian tour were Managing Director of the Housing Development Corporation, Jearlean John, Dr Roodal Moonilal, local Mikey Joseph and Emile Elias; businessman Dominic Hadeed, Local Government Minister Chandresh Sharma, Trade and Industry Minister Stephen Cadiz and Public Utilities Minister Emmanuel George.

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