Life has returned to normal in Barbados after Tropical Storm Matthew menaced the island for more than six hours Wednesday, knocking down trees and utility poles, damaging homes and flooding communities.
After preparing for the worst, residents collectively breathed a sigh of relief Thursday morning after the all clear was given, Barbados was again open for business, and there were no reports of deaths or injuries as a result of the storm.
“So far, the reports that we have suggest no injuries and no loss of life, something we are quite thankful for,” Acting Prime Minister Richard Sealy said at a press conference that was broadcast live on radio and television.
“Events of this nature all too often see tragedy reaching households and, mercifully, we have not had that to deal with. A damaged roof can always be repaired but of course a life cannot be replaced. We are again genuinely thankful that we can report that situation this morning.”
As it relates to the actual impact on infrastructure, Sealy said 63 reports were received by the National Emergency Operations Committee (NEOC). Included were seven fallen utility poles, nine reports of power outages, nine reports of damage to houses, and eight reports of flooding across the island.
However, Sealy said it was too early to place a dollar value on the damage.
“These are still early times and the damage assessment surveys and so on will be done, and rather than giving any figure that is too vague we need to properly assess how our infrastructure has been impacted, how the various houses have been impacted, and then we can speak to those issues from a more definitive perspective,” he said.
The Acting Prime Minister said all agencies responsible for rehabilitation works have been advised and teams were assessing the situation.
“Officials from the Urban Development Commission are on the road; officials from the Ministry of Transport and Works – in fact the Minister of Transport and Works himself is on the road,” he said.
“He’s passed through New Orleans along with the Acting Minister of the Environment who has responsibility for drainage, Senator Jepter Ince, and they are going to assess those communities, because even as far away as Deacons and Headley’s [Land] there are some drainage considerations down there and communities that are particularly susceptible to flooding. As you know, we had in some cases as much as six inches of rain in a very short period of time so we are currently engaging in that effort.”
Even as the assessment continues, Sealy assured that as far as the country is concerned Barbados is back to a place of normalcy.
“Our roadways are clear, the airport is operating, the seaport –– cargo was discharged as early as 8 o’clock this morning –– operations are normal there and indeed businesses and government departments should be all out to work,” he said.
“The exception, and I think we would all understand why, would be our schools. They will remain closed today. So all day care centres and nurseries, primary and secondary schools, the Samuel Jackman Polytechnic, the Barbados Community College and Erdiston Teachers College will remain closed today.”
Sealy also reported that most of the public shelters had been closed but shelter wardens would remain on standby in the event that there was a need for their services to be once again activated.
There were only four occupants in shelters throughout the island.
On the issue of public transportation, Sealy said the Transport Board gradually resumed services from 7:30 a.m.
He also reported that the 511 number for the Ambulance Service was again operational, after not working on Wednesday, and all polyclinics were expected to resume normal service. While emphasis was being placed on urgent care, the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, and Psychiatric and Geriatric Hospitals also resumed normal operations.
Sealy, who is the substantive Minister of Tourism, said the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association had been in contact with its stakeholders and visitors were all comfortable.
“The issue of water to the West Coast has been sorted and even though the pressure is a bit low, again normalcy has returned to the hotel sector,” he said.
Sealy, who was flanked by Attorney General and Minister of Home Affairs Adriel Braithwaite and Acting Director of the Department of Emergency Management (DEM) Kerry Hinds, said he was very heartened at the response of Barbadians in trying to mitigate the effects of the disaster.
He had high praises for the staff of the DEM who worked “tirelessly” through the night.
“I thought it was appropriate that I come and thank the members of the National Emergency Operations Committee. It would have been activated now for some 72 hours.
“As soon as we received word that we would be feeling the effects of some sort of system, even before it properly organized itself into a tropical storm, the NEOC was in operation and I also want to thank everyone associated with the NEOC. Many of them are still here; the NEOC is still activated,” he added.