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Storm leaves 13 dead

By ANDRE BAGOO Thursday, December 26 2013

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STORM strength torrential rainfall associated with a trough system over the Windward Islands on Christmas Eve wrecked havoc and resulted in at least 13 deaths — eight in St Vincent and five in neighbouring St Lucia — as landslides and flooding crippled essential infrastructure in those countries.

For those who survived the storm, there was no Christmas cheer, no yuletide celebrations as many struggled to pick up the pieces having seen their homes and possessions washed away in flood waters.

There were reports that St Vincent and the Grenadines was badly affected, as well as St Lucia and Dominica. Initial reports state eight persons died at St Vincent and the Grenadines, and at least five in St Lucia. However, several persons remained unaccounted for up to press time and officials were yesterday afternoon bracing for a rise in the death toll.

Professor Rose-Marie Belle Antoine, wife of St Lucian Prime Minister Dr Anthony Kenny, told Newsday the situation there was “very bad” and her own residence – which she shares with the St Lucian Prime Minister – was flooded.

In St Vincent and the Grenadines, the National Emergency Management Organisation (NEMO) reported eight dead and nine families homeless. Five persons from one family in Rose Bank died from landslides, NEMO said, one in Byera and two in Vermont. However, five persons were still missing in the Buccament Bay area.

The Building Roads and General Services Authority (BRAGSA) and the Ministry of Transport and Works reported several bridge and roads flooded. Fifty percent of the water network was also shut down.

Media outlets there early yesterday morning reported flash flooding, damage to buildings and bridges, and that electricity and water utilities were down. SVG TV said the country’s ET Joshua Airport was surrounded by flood waters as well as the Milton Cato Memorial Hospital, the main hospital, located on the island of St Vincent.

There were reports that persons were evacuated from the hospital, where flood waters were pictured rushing through the wards as staff struggled to evacuate. Streets of downtown Kingston were submerged.

The iWitness News website posted a report stating at least four persons were reported missing in the Pembroke-Buccament Bay. In the report, one unidentified woman who returned from Canada for Christmas was quoted as saying her 2-year-old baby and 18-year-old sister were swept away by flood waters, even as she was rescued by neighbours in Cane Grove.

Another unidentified man was quoted as saying his eight-year-old daughter, who was visiting her mom in Buccament Bay, was also washed away. A female employee of the Buccament Bay Resort was also washed away as employees attempted to cross the bridge leading to the village.

St Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves is today due to return to the island after cutting short his Christmas vacation in London. Acting Prime Minister Girlyn Miguel along with Director of NEMO Howie Prince and other government officials were said to be on the field visiting some of the affected areas to get a first hand view of the damage.

Trinidad and Tobago’s National Security Minister Gary Griffith yesterday received a report on the situation, with a view to assessing possible aid and intervention from Caricom and on a bi- lateral basis.

The local National Emergency Operations Centre (NEOC) director Vijai Mahabir informed the Office of Disaster Preparedness (ODPM)’s CEO Dr Stephen Ramroop, that the local NEOC had been activated.

NEMO yesterday said there were ongoing clean-up operations at the ET Joshua Airport at St Vincent and the Grenadines which had been flooded and the airport was scheduled to re-open at 3pm. Areas in St Vincent and the Grenadines hit included: Pembroke, Vermont, Buccament Bay, South Rivers, Byera, Spring Village, Rose Bank, Kingstown.

Ironically, the year 2013, has seen fewer than predicted hurricanes. The 2013 Atlantic Hurricane season was the first since 1994 to end with no major hurricanes. The weather system responsible for the Christmas devastation was a trough or low-pressure front which forces air to rise and condense.

The St Vincent and the Grenadines Meteorological Office said early yesterday the country was experiencing moisture and instability associated with a trough system. A mid-to-upper-level low in the Caribbean Sea with associated moisture and deep convection, generated copious amounts of rainfall over the north-eastern portions of the Lesser Antilles and was up to yesterday expected to do so, accompanied by gusty winds. The rains began early on Christmas Eve and ended early yesterday morning.

Griffith said, “Trinidad and Tobago, as lead for security in Caricom, has contacted the office of the prime minister at St Vincent and the Grenadines. I am waiting on my counter-part there to give me a report.” He said there was a range of possible intervention including: Financial assistance, food supplies, military and coast guard resources.

“It is very important that we ascertain that threat assessment and the coordinate from there,” he said.

The ODPM yesterday said, “The ODPM is presently in contact with NEMO of St Vincent and is preparing a situation report for the Minister of National Security, NOC and other critical stakeholders. Preparations have also been made for the provision of emergency relief supplies for the ODPM warehouse in anticipation of a request.” (SEE PAGE 8A)

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