Tropical Storm Karen has left Tobago battered and Trinidad anxious over the prospect of increased flooding with river waters expected to rise overnight.
While Trinidad experienced widespread flooding with several rivers bursting their banks, Tobago suffered blown roofs, collapsed houses, damaged business places, multiple landslides and extensive flooding. Trinidad’s water supply has also been affected by turbid river conditions, siltation and power failures at WASA’s treatment plants.
The relief is that there has been no loss of life. While some braved the weather for reasons of their own, most people appeared to have heeded the authorities’ call to stay put and not get in the way of emergency personnel trying to do their work. They stayed home and made the most of social media by sharing videos and information while staying in touch with the news and each other.
The Government seemed to have learned from the mistakes of October last year when a large swathe of the country went under water for days, resulting in massive human dislocation and property damage. National Security Minister Stuart Young led a ministerial team early yesterday that took pains to emphasise how prepared the Government was for any eventuality, perhaps at the expense of connecting to the actual experiences of people who were under pressure. Its initial statements seemed disconnected from the unfolding situation in Tobago even as the island was taking the brunt of Karen’s weather system. Nonetheless, the elements were in place. Shelters were opened, first responders at the local government level were activated, health facilities were on alert and all the elements of a co-ordinated response to the storm seemed to be in place.
In the immediate aftermath of the storm it was the right decision to keep schools closed today and to allow the resumption of the work week, assuming the risk of flooding subsides. Children should be kept out of unnecessary distress and possible harm. Fortunately, the system was not overly tested by the storm, especially Trinidad which experienced the impact of a few feeder bands. Alongside the survey of damage, mopping-up operations and repairs, the emergency services should prioritise a thorough review of its handling of tropical storm Karen with a view to further improvement. The hurricane high season is upon us, and although Trinidad and Tobago’s location generally affords a certain protection from storms churning across the Atlantic, it would be folly to take anything for granted.
However, not even the best laid disaster plans will protect Trinidad and Tobago from the combination of nature’s fury, weak infrastructure, an absence of development planning and continued clogging of waterways with garbage by irresponsible citizens .
While an emergency plan can mitigate disasters, it will not help Trinidad and Tobago to escape the problems created by decades of haphazard governance and mis-management of the physical environment. These are big-ticket problems that demand resolute governance, major investment and unrelenting enforcement, none of which can be engaged in the midst of the hurricane season.
The recent flooding of the capital after routine rainfall suggests that the ameliorative projects promised for rainy season 2019 were not implemented necessitating a deferment of hope for yet another year.
Hopefully, until then, T&T’s luck will continue to hold.