As Barbadians dust off tons of ash, while a major relief effort is underway in volcano-stricken St Vincent, the Caribbean’s top disaster management official has warned the region’s people not to take their eyes off a more active than usual hurricane season that begins in six weeks’ time.
The head of the Caribbean Disaster and Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA), Elizabeth Riley, called on residents to be prepared, pointing out that while experts are predicting 17 named storms “remember it only takes one [to cause major destruction]”.
“Please bear this in mind,” she told journalists.
“This is going to be another level of complexity to our colleagues in St Vincent and the Grenadines.”
Hurricane-watchers at Colorado State University are predicting some 17 named storms, eight hurricanes and four major hurricanes (category 3 or above). The annual average is 14 named storms, seven hurricanes and three major hurricanes.
In a media briefing from the agency’s Barbados headquarters, the CDEMA executive director said a fuller picture of the state of the disaster on mainland St Vincent is expected to emerge over the next four days as the regional disaster management agency’s responds to the ongoing eruptions at the La Soufrière volcano in northern St Vincent.
Up to last Friday morning’s first eruption, some 20,000 people were displaced, she said.
Riley also reported that as of Wednesday morning, 3,984 people were being housed in 87 public shelters.
Pointing out that a number of people have decided to stay with relatives and friends, she added that so far, 2,048 people were staying with 446 families.
“The emergency operations centre is in the process of collating the statistics on those numbers and their geographical locations,” she said.
Over the past five days, Riley said, the agency had mobilised a “detailed damage sector assessment team” at the request of the St Vincent and the Grenadines government.
The team, she said, would help Vincentian authorities assess “where certain key sectors are at this stage”. The CDEMA team will be supported by other regional agencies, she added.
Riley told journalists: “This team is being led by the CDEMA coordinating unit and within four days we anticipate having a fairly consolidated picture with respect to the state of affairs and also to get a deeper understanding of the needs as they are evolving.
“In addition, the coordinating unit will be deploying its CARICOM Disaster Relief Unit (CDRU), a team which is coordinated through the Regional Security System (RSS), and will provide support in the relief management operations at the national level, principally at the seaport.”
While praising those who have provided assistance so far, including individuals, the private sector, several governments and development partners, Riley warned against independent individuals trying to sail to the island to offer assistance, explaining that while the airport is closed the sea port’s capacity is limited at this time.
“We know you are well-intentioned but it can cause a level of congestion at the port and we don’t want this to happen,” said Riley, adding that the government there was encouraging bulk donation instead of items for specific individuals.
Pointing out that the needs could change over time as experts expect the eruptions to continue for days and even weeks, she explained that once the assessment was done, CDEMA would inform the public of the multi-island nation’s needs.
“I want to, however, urge you to coordinate with your national disaster offices. I am speaking to the public across the Caribbean. It is very important that you do this,” she said, adding that CDEMA was coordinating with its 18 member states in order to avoid added challenges.
“I know that there are many entities that are well-meaning, but please stay in touch with your national disaster offices and make sure that the work you are doing is consistent with the needs list that has been issued.
“We are discouraging unsolicited items from the needs list because we don’t want to create a secondary disaster by overloading the country with items that are not prioritized at this time,” she explained.
Stating that the St Vincent and the Grenadines government is encouraging financial donations at this time, Riley said those seeking to contribute financially could do so by visiting the CDEMA website to donate to the Barbados dollar and US currency accounts.