Despite 60 minutes of rain unleashing severe flood waters in several communities last week, head of the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Management (ODPM) retired Captain Neville Wint says that the country is in a state of readiness for the 2018 hurricane season.
The bold statement came months after the ODPM was heavily criticised by citizens and Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley for its handling of Tropical Storm Bret and the Divali floods of 2017.
Such criticism led to former ODPM CEO, retired Col Dave Williams, resigning under public pressure.
Williams had described the Divali flood as “no big thing” but during a visit to flood victims in Sangre Grande and Mayaro, Rowley said he was convinced that the correct personnel was not in the ODPM and it was not prepared to respond.
At a media conference yesterday at the San Fernando City Hall auditorium to discuss Government agencies’ state of readiness for this season, Wint said based on lessons learned from 2017, both locally and regionally, the ODPM has made adjustments to the way it will approach disasters.
Although the OPDM was deemed to have failed during last year’s floods, Wint said they were also ready then and the impact of concentrated rainfall tested that readiness.
However, he said those who live in the river, on the banks and in the lagoons were impacted based on their action.
Wint said programmes have been improved along with numerous consultations with the Ministry of Rural Development and Local Government, the Ministry of Health and the various agencies which have critical roles in dealing with disasters.
The Ministry of Rural Development has ensured that shelters are ready and will be stocked with supplies. Steps will be taken to inform the population and the locations of shelters while management structures are being put in place.
Last year, there were people who were turned away or met locked doors at emergency shelters. While Wint hoped that there is no recurrence, he said that if the regional corporations are unaware that a shelter is supposed to be opened, there would be no resources allocated.
He said public education has been placed on the forefront and has begun with the publication of the ODPM’s Hurricane Guide on its website.
But while the ODPM is ready to respond, Wint said the country’s success in mitigating disaster also rests heavily with citizens.
“The ODPM is pleading with the population of Trinidad and Tobago to be extra vigilant this season, especially those persons living in low lying areas, conducting business or even recreation. We also appeal to persons to pay special attention to the forecast, information and bulletins being issued by the agencies so authorised to do.
“Notwithstanding the prediction of the 2018 hurricane season, it takes only one organised system to cause damage and as such, persons are reminded not to leave anything to chance. God is not a Trini,” Wint said.
Beside weather systems, he said that T&T was located in an earthquake zone and a reminder was given June 22 when a 5.3 magnitude earthquake 98 km West of Port-of-Spain shook the country.
“The state of the nation’s readiness to me is at a state where I am proud to say, we are ready. However, the severity of the impact will test our readiness. It will test not only the readiness of the responding entities but every individual in Trinidad and Tobago.”
Director of Environment Health in Municipal and Regional Corporations Jameel Mohammed said that municipal corporation bodies have cleaned 75 per cent of minor drains.
Just yesterday, Debe residents complained about the blocked drainage culverts and silty drain in their community.
Mohammed said that beyond cleaning, all corporations have drainage projects to be completed this year.
So far, corporations are in the process of distributing sandbags to its burgesses.
However, Mohammed said there needs to be a cultural change in terms of illegal dumping, littering and adhering the building codes.
In the farming community, he said farmers would block watercourses as an irrigation method to water their crops but would not remove the blockages in times for the rainy season.
Wint said these issues were a recurring problem and the Ministry of Works and Transport is engaged in a structured, Cabinet-approved programme to clean watercourses. He said homeowners should also use sandbags and take measures to protect their properties.