Friday, April 19, 2024

Lucians trying hard to cope

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Castries – Bodies are still being counted and searched for in Haiti and St Lucia, following a second weekend of wrath by Hurricane Tomas through the Caribbean island chain.
First Tomas hit Barbados, St Lucia and St Vincent and the Grenadines with sustained heavy gusts of wind and rain on October 30 and 31; then it slowed down and gradually headed for Jamaica, Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Cuba.
Now the affected countries are assessing damage, starting rehabilitation and seeking international assistance.
But while some international donor countries and neighbouring Caribbean states have been responding early and the St Lucia government has been signalling an early return to tourism business as usual, two of the Caribbean’s biggest world allies – Britain and the United States – have issued travel advisories warning citizens to either stay away from St Lucia, or be careful about going there.
In Haiti, government and health officials are counting the costs of the hurricane after last January’s earthquake and a recent outbreak of cholera.
In St Lucia, it’s a combination of pain and anguish and the difficulty with coming to grips with the scale of the disaster its cost, and mobilizing rehabilitation funds.
Hurricane Tomas’ death toll in Haiti has been initially put at 26, with over 30 more missing. In St Lucia, it stands at eight, but it continues to rise as missing bodies are found by rescue and recovery workers in areas previously made inaccessible by landslides.
Reports of 14 people dead have been denied by health authorities, who explained that missing persons ought not to be counted a dead “until bodies or those persons are found and identified”.
Relatives of missing people are being called upon to help identify bodies found in Castries.
St Lucia’s initial damage estimates have increased in the past week from Eastern Caribbean EC$270 million to US$100 million and then to US$500 million, as the government looks abroad for urgently help.
Prime Minister Stephenson King said St Lucia may just avoid a feared water crisis after Hurricane Tomas as water may be pumped from the island’s largest dam soon with help from technicians from the United States and Trinidad and Tobago, flown in to help the damaged water system pump its daily output of eight million gallons of water to north of the island.
Several towns and villages have been partly reconnected, but many water intakes are silted from landslides and floods.
Agriculture has taken a total hit, with the agriculture minister, Ezekiel Joseph. indicating that banana exports “will resume no earlier than May 2011.”
“Now is the time to stop talking about losses and start thinking about recovery,” he said. Opposition Leader Dr Kenny D. Anthony Tuesday called for “political tribalism” to be put aside.
Negative activities and refusal of many to assist in areas of need have caused St Lucia’s National Emergency Management Organization (NEMO) to issue warnings to curious members of the public to desist from taking advantage of free transport meant for relatives of affected persons to engage in mere sight-seeing in the affected areas.
The numbers of curious visitors from other parts of the island is so overwhelming that rescue officials say they hamper efforts in many badly affected areas.
The St Lucia police have also warned against people pretending to be police and NEMO officers and advising affected householders in danger areas to vacate their homes, only to facilitate planned household robberies.
Merchants have also been arbitrarily increasing the prices of necessary emergency food items and household stocks, especially bottled water.
Prime Minister King praised his Trinidad & Tobago counterpart Kamla Persad-Bissessar who visited St Lucia Sunday with three Cabinet ministers and a large Press and private sector delegation.
The visiting prime minister said she had arranged a donation of 5 000 cases bottles of purified water from a private sector firm and promised TT$3 million more in aid.
She also distributed hampers and promised her country’ coast guard would deliver more supplies soon to both St Lucia and St Vincent & the Grenadines.
 Prime Minister of Grenada’s, Tillman Thomas also visited St Lucia to assess help needs.
Australia, Canada, Panama, Britain and the United States have helped with early cash donations described by Prime Minister King as “envelopes of assistance”, along with a US$12.8 million aid package for the three affected states from the Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Fund.
Taiwan said Tuesday it will give EC$5 million to help restore agriculture and specific facilities damaged.
Japan also said Tuesday it would dispatch emergency goods to both countries, including generators and water purification machines worth over EC$80 000.
British sailors are searching for survivors – including one baby – as well as delivering supplies to inaccessible areas by helicopter, supplying drinking water, cleaning and repairing a hospital and distributing hot meals.

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