PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad – Trinidad and Tobago Monday began the task of mopping up following heavy rains over the past four days that caused widespread flooding, landslides and left millions of dollars (One TT dollar=US$0.16 cents) in damage.
There were no reports of deaths or missing people. Many citizens were being housed at hurricane shelters mainly in the south, central and eastern part of the country where the floods have caused the most damage.
The Trinidad and Tobago Meteorological Service Monday maintained its Orange Level alert for the twin-island Republic that had been issued since last Thursday until Tuesday, warning residents of intermittent showers in varying localities.
“Some of these showers will be heavy and thundery and be accompanied by gusty winds,” it added.
The Office of Disaster Preparedness and Management (ODPM) said that at least 150,000 people were directly affected by the torrential rains over the past few days as a result of an intertropical convergence zone (ITZ) that flooded homes, damaged roads and made bridges in some areas impassable.
“We are still not out of the woods as they say. We expect this (weather pattern) to continue into tomorrow morning, but fortunately at this stage I am happy to report that the vast majority of the waters are running off,” National security and communications minister Stuart Young told a news conference on Monday.
Young, flanked by two of his colleagues, said there were still areas across the country “under water” and that resources have been sent there.
“But at this stage we are going into the clean-up phase,” he said, urging people not to try and enter areas that are still deemed not safe.
“I am pleading with people. On the Manzanilla stretch (on the east coast) there are long kilometres that are still under water. I saw persons still trying to make their way through these flood waters,” he said, adding that vehicles run the possibility of being stuck.
“Please, I have been pleading with you all for the past 48 hours do not put yourselves at risk,” he added.
Young said that everyone has been reached by rescue teams, noting “at this stage we are not aware of anyone in need of rescuing,” even as he acknowledged that some people were reluctant to leave their homes.
OPDM chief executive officer, captain Neville Wint said while rescue teams had gone house to house in search of people in need of assistance, said the authorities may have to consider legislation that would ensure the compulsory evacuation of people since this would allow “us to save lives”.
The Trinidad and Tobago Manufacturers Association (TTMA) announced that it had created a campaign “FundMeTNT” to help raise funds for those affected by the floods.
In a statement, the TTMA said that as of Sunday there have been 65 donors who have contributed more than TT$28,240 and that any individual, organization can create a campaign on “FundMeTNT’ to receiving donations worldwide.
Former Trinidad and Tobago national footballers have also announced plans for a charity match in aid of the flood victims.
The Children’s Authority of Trinidad and Tobago is urging parents and guardians to ensure the safety of children, noting that “during times of disaster children are one of the most vulnerable groups.
“Therefore, parents and guardians are advised that while clean-up efforts are underway, they need to be vigilant and ensure that their children are properly supervised, at all times,” it said, adding that in many instances, the trauma, as a result of the devastation, affects a child’s physical, mental and emotional health.
“As far as possible, adults should help children cope by firstly dealing with their own response to the disaster. It is expected that parents will be frustrated, however they should allow and encourage children to express their feelings about the situation, rather than scold them for being in the way. “
Meanwhile, the rescue and clean-up campaign took on a political dimension Monday after opposition legislators in the senate walked out demanding that the government stop the debate on the 2018-19 national budget for three days so as to allow them time to deal with the concerns of their constituents.
United National Congress (UNC) senator Khadijah Ameen said that while some schools and business places were open, many people were unable to get to their workplace or schools.
“Many students, many children lost all their books, their uniforms and shoes in the devastation. Even if their schools were not flooded they cannot go to school. Madam president I want to make an open call to the leader of government business to shut down this debate for the next three days and let every member of parliament go out on the field and help the people of Trinidad and Tobago,” she said, echoing the party’s criticism of the rescue and relief operations since the rains began last weekend.
But energy minister Franklin Kahn, the leader of government business, disagreed, saying simply “the answer is that the Senate would continue to sit”.
Later, Young told reporters that the authorities would not be side-tracked by the political machinations of the opposition.
He said that all the funds needed to deal with the relief exercise are contained within the budget.
“Senators do not have constituencies to go and service. All 41 constituencies in Trinidad and Tobago have an MP . . . and it is the MPs who are there. It is the councillors and the alderman who are on the ground.
“So question, whilst in the middle of an important debate like the budget debate to pass money so that everything can be funded and keep our country going forward, senators of the UNC walked out to go an assist. Assist doing what? Posing for photographs.
“Citizens of Trinidad and Tobago we continue to be with our brothers and sisters in time of need. It is far from over as I said, the clean-up exercise is going on,” he said.
Finance minister Colm Imbert Monday said that the government had made contact with the Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility (CCRIF SPC) with whom it has a catastrophe insurance policy to cater for damage to physical infrastructure, the cost of clean-up and rescue operations, and funding for disaster relief for citizens and residents of Trinidad and Tobago.
CCRIF is a regional catastrophe fund for Caribbean governments, designed primarily to limit the financial impact of devastating hurricanes and earthquakes by quickly providing financial support when a policy is triggered.
But Imbert said that last year, the ministry of finance paid an additional premium to include coverage for damage caused by excessive rainfall for the 2017-2018 period.
“The excessive rainfall policy was renewed a few months ago for the 2018/2019 period. CCRIF was advised on Saturday that Trinidad and Tobago was experiencing unusually heavy rainfall and suffering from severe flooding. Urgent disbursement of funds was requested from this country’s excessive rainfall insurance policy with CCRIF,” he said.
Imbert said in the interim, while the excessive rainfall claim with CCRIF is being processed, the ministry of finance is making internal arrangements to ensure that Regional Corporations, the Defence Force and protective services as well as the relevant ministries with responsibility for disaster management, social services and health care, the ODPM and other relief agencies are suitably funded.
The Association of Trinidad and Tobago insurance Companies (ATTIC) was urging people to prepare their claims even though “the full extent of property and motor losses are still being assessed”.
“If possible take as many photographs of your property and or motor vehicles prior to cleaning up as this will assist the claim process,” it said.