Published On: Fri, Dec 27th, 2013

St Vincent flood damage in the millions – Gonsalves

GonsalvesKINGSTOWN, St. Vincent – The St. Vincent and the Grenadines government said it would need “millions of dollars” to rebuild the country battered by a slow moving low level trough that left eight people dead and at least five others missing.

Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, who cut short his Christmas holidays in London, has dubbed Friday “Clean up Kingstown Day”.

“As Prime Minister, I promise you to do even better than I have tried to do. Let us work together, we will recover, we will rehabilitate this country and we will do it in the shortest possible time,” he said.

“As difficult as the circumstances are … we are fortunate to be alive. It pains me greatly. Those who have suffered material loss, I am also deeply pained and I give you my word I will do my best to help,” Gonsalves said soon after attending a meeting with disaster and emergency officials soon after his arrival here on Thursday night.

“We have had a very difficult hit,” he said, noting the number of dead and missing, and expressed his condolences to the families and friends of those who were killed.

“We will remember these persons always. When the dust is settled on this, we have to build a monument to those who died,” he added.

Gonsalves said the briefing he received indicated “a disaster of a proportion the likes of which we have not seen in living memory”.

He said the destruction caused by the weather system that also affected the neighbouring islands of Dominica and St. Lucia, resulted in the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars.

“Over the next few days, we will get a clearer picture as to the full extent.”

The government has said that given the state of the capital, it is advising that activity in the city be kept at a minimum on Friday.

Gonsalves called for all workers in essential services to report to work.

“I want to repeat, it is not a bank holiday… but (Friday) is essentially clean up Kingstown,” he said, adding that while he would like to see essential businesses operating, the city should not be a thoroughfare.

He noted that getting to Kingstown from some areas of the country would be difficult because of the condition of the road network.

Gonsalves, who will embark on a tour of the affected area on Friday, said he would travel directly to Rose Bank, where five people died when a house collapsed.

Prime Minister Gonsalves said he would also visit communities on the Leeward and Windward sides of the island and invited  local contractors and foreign contractor,  who have done work for the government, to a meeting at 10 a.m. (local time) Saturday.

He said that while his government does not have upfront all the money needed to complete repairs, it was willing to talk to bankers to see if contractors’ overdrafts could be increased and interest rates reduced.

The government is also prepared to act as a guarantor for the release of funds to expedite the works.

“I want to say how pleased I am that Vincentians have worked together at this time of natural disaster to help one other,” Gonsalves said, adding that the weather was totally unexpected.

He said that when he first heard of the scale and magnitude of the disaster he was “driven to tears” and given the experience of April 2011 when the country faced a major flood, he is anticipating extensive damage to roads, homes and buildings.

Gonsalves said that while the assessment was being done, the nation had to remember the many people who have lost houses as well as the 70 people in emergency shelters.

“We have to move fairly swiftly to see how government and citizens can work to return people’s lives to some normalcy. This is a big task, the very assessment itself, but we can’t take too long,” he said, even as he urged proper assessment to inform the scope and type of works.

He said building material and asphalt were needed and his Government would seek assistance from friendly governments.

He said that President of the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), Dr. Warren Smith, has requested a conversation with him on Friday, and Trinidad and Tobago has inquired about assistance that is needed immediately.

The World Bank, ALBA Bank, Petrocaribe, and the European Union may also be approached for assistance.

Gonsalves, however, said that the difficulty is that given the nature of the CDB, the World Bank, and the European Union, it will take up to two years before any real money comes from them, making such disbursement more suitable for less immediate programmes.

“But I have to mobilise loads of money immediately, where we can’t wait, given the enormity of the task which is before us,” he said.

Parliament earlier this month approved a national budget of EC$911 million (One EC dollar = US$.037 cents) and Prime Minister Gonsalves said he would be going back for an additional funds “because this is a national disaster of phenomenal proportion”.

He urged citizens not to abandon the sense of unity seen in the past few days, noting that the country’s geographical location cannot be change.

He said a number of tourists were on the same flight with him from London, some of them heading to Buccament Bay Resort, which had been damaged by the rains and floods.

“If tourists can still be coming to us, with problems with some of the resorts … we have to realize that we ourselves, this is our country, we have to work together. Each of us has to be heroic in this immediate period. We have to lift our game,” he said and urged citizens to rise “beyond what we normally say is our best”.

He said electricity has been restored to most of the Leeward side of St. Vincent but parts of Chateaubelair, in addition to some areas north of the Rabacca Dry River, was still in the dark.

He made mention of the extensive damage to the Cumberland hydropower plant, adding that reduced generation would lead to higher fuel surcharge.

“So, that is a challenge which we have to meet,” he said.

Half of the country was still without water, and the supply was expected to be reconnected, progressively, by Tuesday.

Gonsalves said that his own residence was without water, telling the nation he would have to cope like everybody else.

“We all have to adjust ourselves to the circumstances in which we find ourselves,” he said.

But while he focused on the work to be done her, Prime Minister Gonsalves expressed solidarity with  St. Lucia and Dominica.

He also expressed solidarity with other countries, including Brazil, Mexico, the United Kingdom and Canada, which experience extreme weather events recently.

“We are part of humanity and we are joined together by a common weather system …” he said, adding “They all (countries) belong to planet earth”.

“Let us lift ourselves, let us work together, let us remember that we must love one another, let us pray to Almighty God to make us better, let us endeavour to be better to one another, let us in this very small country stop all senseless backbiter and fighting over nothing, let us get rid of all our vanities as is humanly possible, let us look out for one another,” Gonsalves said.

By Kenton Chance

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