Representatives of the Eastern Caribbean describe effects of Christmas storm. Photo: Juan Manuel Herrera/OAS
WASHINGTON, USA -- The permanent representatives of St Vincent and the Grenadines, Saint Lucia and Dominica to the Organization of American States (OAS) described and gave dramatic details about the damage that resulted from the intense torrential rains that fell over Christmas on the Eastern Caribbean nations, and made a call for international aid to help in the process of recovery, during a press conference on Friday at OAS headquarters in Washington DC.
The permanent representative of St Vincent and the Grenadines, La Celia Prince, recalled that her country accumulated 12.5 inches of rain in just five hours between Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, which she described as “something not seen in 100 years.”
The rains and resulting flooding took the lives of nine people in the country, and several remain missing, said Prince, who added that “14 percent of the population is still reeling from the impact.”
“I want to thank those in the international community that have come to our aid and to make an appeal for more assistance as we try to rebuild the devastated regions of our country. People still have a dire need and we are on a long road to recovery,” emphasized Prince.
The permanent representative of Saint Lucia to the OAS, Sonia Johnny, said, “We have been quite surprised at the magnitude of the damage and while initially we thought we would be able to respond with local resources and regional neighbors, we have been proven wrong.”
Johnny reported that six people died in her country as a result of the storm, and indicated that the costs of reconstruction would likely reach several hundred millions of dollars.
“So we will be seeking support in technical assistance and expertise not just to recover from this tragic episode, but also to improve upon our early warning system,” she said.
Ambassador Hubert Charles of Dominica said the initial cleanup work in his country has been completed, but that “extra-budgetary contributions are required to fund the program for repair and reconstruction of damaged civil infrastructures, shoring up embankments, and providing support for the families and small businesses impacted by the storm.”
Charles highlighted that the rains were unusual in that they took place after the end of hurricane season, and said the disaster “provides us with an opportunity to highlight the importance of support for the medium and long term development plans of the Caribbean region.”
The assistant secretary general of the OAS, Albert Ramdin, said, “The OAS is committed to support, in any form we can, the relief efforts, with a focus not only on the immediate needs but also on long term restructuring and rebuilding.”
Ramdin added that the OAS has made a contribution to the affected countries and “will meet with its Inter-American partners on Tuesday in the Inter-American Committee on Natural Disaster Reduction.”
Ramdin applauded the work of the Pan-American Development Foundation (PADF) and the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) to support the affected countries and emphasized that “the focus in terms of rebuilding should not only be on financial aspects; there are other issues which should be taken into account such as physical and urban planning, the issues of enforcement of law, where to build and where not to build, and involving the private sector.”
The secretary general of the OAS, José Miguel Insulza, was present at the press conference, as were the permanent representatives of many member countries.
On the night of December 24 and during the day on the 25th, a low-level, high impact trough system passed through the Eastern Caribbean region, dumping enormous quantities of rain over parts of Dominica, Saint Lucia and St Vincent and the Grenadines, taking lives, livelihoods, homes and vital infrastructure. The damage is particularly serious for the affected countries, in that the Eastern Caribbean is frequently impacted during hurricane season, which on this occasion had officially concluded.