Today, Trinidad and Tobago finds itself of the cusp of a real litmus test for our natural disaster response. If the forecasts by the National Hurricane Centre and T&T Meteorological Service held for overnight into today, citizens will already be seeing signs of what the bad weather associated with the tropical storm expected to sweep over the country will bring.
The regional corporations were put on high alert since Sunday by Rural Development Minister Faris Al-Rawi and the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Management would have also triggered their response mechanisms.
From all reports yesterday, citizens were happy with the pre-storm preparations by the regional corporations, who distributed thousands of sandbags to those desirous of shoring up their properties in low-lying flood-prone communities. Corporations have also indicated that their staff and machinery stand mobilised and ready to roll into possible action.
For all of the apparent planning and decisions undertaken by Cabinet since last week, however, there do appear to be some chinks in the armour going in.
For starters, some regional corporations were overwhelmed by the response for sandbags and ran out of supply. Luckily, some corporate citizen picked up the slack.
The late announcement on Monday night by the Ministry of Education to close all early childhood centres and primary schools and allowing only students and staff involved in the CAPE exams also did no favours to parents/guardians responsible for the care of those children. As a result of this, many parent/guardians were still in the dark yesterday morning and left scampering to make alternative arrangements for their children.
And this, of course, leads to the even more belated decision to dismiss public servants from work at lunchtime yesterday. By now, Cabinet should surely know there is a correlating action which would have come with the announcement of no school for the majority of the student population. This is to say that public servants, the Government being a major employer in the country, would have been faced with finding persons to care for their children or, ultimately, staying home to do so themselves.
Given the situation, the more pragmatic decision by the Government should have been to shut down both schools and government offices yesterday in the first instance and save the confusion of public servants rushing out of the capital all at the same time yesterday.
Having said that, the main responsibility for the protection of the lives, livelihood and property will fall on the public for the most part of the next 36 hours. Hopefully, citizens would have taken countermeasures ahead of the storm, including shoring up roofs and removing debris which could pose risks on their properties. Of course, there was the last-minute panic buying by some yesterday despite the fact that the warning had come since the weekend.
Needless to say, we hope that all citizens have equipped themselves with all that is necessary to stay in place for anything over the next two days. This will also be a period to be your brother’s keeper and we hope those who are in better positions will come forward to provide for others should it come to this.
Above all, stay safe T&T.