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Hurricane Tomas – A trial run for SVG

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19.NOV.10

Editor: The passage of Hurricane Tomas has been, for all intents and purposes, a trial run. Bad as it was, it was only a category one storm with seventy-five mile an hour winds. A catastrophic category five packs winds of almost double velocity. So how did we do in terms of our structural integrity, our first responders and security systems, our utilities and essential services?{{more}}

Structural Integrity

Judging from the number of houses and other structures that lost their roofs, it is necessary for us to take a very serious look at our building requirements and our code compliance. In a lot of cases, the roofs came off in sections, instead of sheet by sheet of galvanize. This is indicative of the utilization of nails to attach galvanize to rafters, instead of screws and bolts, reinforced by straps. It is apparent that we have corrected the problem of roofs being lifted off along with ring beams. This problem has largely been solved by the casting in of rafters into reinforced ring beams and in some cases anchored down to the foundation by means of stirrups.

First Responders

As regards our first responders and security, it is apparent from all reports and observation that our people rose to the occasion, especially so in light of the relatively short notice of the impending storm. Medical personnel in the hospitals are to be commended for their professionalism, dedication to duty and personal sacrifice, some of them putting in several hours beyond their usual shifts; ensuring that their charges were taken care of and comfortable. The police, as usual, were at the top of their game, living up to the “Principal Object of the Police”: “The protection of life and property. The detection and prevention of crime. The pursuit, arrest and prosecution of offenders. And the preservation of peace”, especially so in light of the power black-out. Of course, the usual criminal opportunists took advantage of the situation to carry out their malevolent deeds under the cover of darkness. The police were ably assisted by personnel of the private security firms and other volunteers. Well done!

Utilities

The electricity services proved to be very susceptible and vulnerable. This was manifested by the rolling black-outs nationwide. The system experienced a one hundred per cent shut down. However, within thirty-six hours of the passage of the storm, approximately fifty per cent of the system was restored. Considering the extent of the damage, this is commendable. Even in more developed countries, utilities at times take weeks to be restored to thousands of households in the aftermath of natural disasters, such as tornadoes.

The Central Water and Sewage Authority had its hands full, with ninety per cent of their systems being adversely affected. Given the multiplicity and severity of the landslides, fallen trees and broken pipes, they were able to restore service to many customers in a relatively short time. Within a week, all should be back to normal. Chief Executive Officer Mr. Garth Saunders gave a comprehensive overview of the damage sustained by the system and what has to be done to rectify it. His calm, methodical and knowledgeable explanation was very reassuring.

Communications

Nice Radio and Mr. Douglas DeFreitas, in the lead up to the storm, were very instrumental in keeping the public informed as to the coordinates etc, before they were eventually knocked of the air. (At least in my area).

The National Broadcasting Corporation or maybe after Tomas the “No Better Communicator” gets the “drum roll” and the “caps off” salute. The NBC proved that “when the going gets tough, the tough get going”. And we are not talking about going home or off the air! Not just the fact that they remained on the air, because a couple other stations were back on the air in short order. However, the NBC distinguished itself by being the “Lifeline”. They provided invaluable information for hours non-stop, assisted by listeners nationwide who called in reports. The NBC showed depth in that anchoring personnel were there on each shift to hold down the fort from start to finish.

It was refreshing to see that some of the anchors stayed on after their shifts, in some cases going on two or three shifts to provide overlap and back-up to the person who relieved them. I have here to single out Mr. Desmond “Dessie” Arrindell and Ms. Abigail “Abby” Haynes. They were quite simply, in a word, marvelous! Not forgetting General Manager Ms. Corlita Ollivierre, Mr. Colville Harry, Candyman, and others who braved the elements to go on the road to provide the listening public with eye-witness reports. NBC stands heads and shoulders above the rest.

The other electronic communications services, especially the wireless systems, were generally very reliable. It was surely reassuring to know that cell phones worked throughout. The only problem was the lack of power to keep batteries charged.

NEMO

The National Emergency Management Organization and the Natural Disaster Committees. Much of their work is done behind closed doors in planning and strategizing. It is, therefore, more difficult to make an informed assessment. Notwithstanding, and judging from the prepositioning of equipment by BRAGSA (Bridges, Roads and General Services Authority) and other private entities and the co-ordination of security and other logistical factors; it is fair to say that NEMO performed creditably.

The Commander-in-Chief

The Prime Minister was true to form, in his usual hands-on, seize-the-bull-by-the-horns proactive style. He was attending a CDB meeting in Barbados. Upon arrival back to St. Vincent late Friday, he went directly from the airport into crisis meetings at NEMO. He addressed the nation at 6:45 a.m. on Saturday. Having done a post-storm ground tour of much of the country, he subsequently reported on developments and assessments. Again, an exemplary performance.

When all is said and done and a comprehensive analysis is carried out, we will be able to determine where the system needs tweaking and do what is necessary to improve it. By and large we have done well, but we must not become complacent nor rest on our laurels, considering that Tomas was only a trial run that gave us an opportunity to test all systems. The next one may well be of a higher category. We must, therefore, always be on guard. All systems must be ready.

To God be the glory. There was no loss of lives here. Our condolences and prayers for our sister island St. Lucia, where lives were sadly lost.

Benson Plaugh-Feddows

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