By Kenton X. Chance
KINGSTOWN, St Vincent -- The St Vincent and the Grenadines Cabinet has set up two committees each to oversee the rehabilitation of the nation’s infrastructure and agricultural sector respectively, as Vincentians rebuild after Hurricane Thomas.
The storm, which struck on Saturday, left EC$65 million (US$24 million) in damage to the agricultural sector, in addition to damage to 1,200 homes, utilities and other infrastructure.
While there were no confirmed deaths, a Victoria Village man who went into the mountains on Friday was still unaccounted for, Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves said on Monday.
However, fishermen Guy Ollivierre of Victoria Village and Vandyke ‘Jeff’ Dickson’ of Lower Stubbs, who went missing on Friday after setting off in a small boat, were picked up on the uninhabited Grenadines island of Baliceau and taken to Bequia.
Meanwhile, hundreds of Vincentians were in emergency shelters and the government has declared the northern part of St Vincent a “disaster area”.
The “disaster area” comprises both the western and eastern coast of the nation, including Sandy Bay, home of indigenous Vincentians, which was “most severely hit”.
Gonsalves told the nation that a detailed assessment of damage to houses was underway.
The government was buying EC$1 million in building material to distribute to affected homeowners.
He said the state would commence on Tuesday the repair or reconstruction of at least one house in each of the affected villages and that his government would “proceed with rapidity”.
He said provisions must be made to have displaced persons out of schools by Thursday, so that students can return to the classroom next Monday.
The Ministry of Education has cancelled classes this week because some of the nation’s schools are being used as emergency shelters.
“I want people to realize that we are going to do our best,” said Gonsalves, who has ministerial responsibilities for disaster management.
The damage to the agricultural sector includes the destruction of the nation’s banana and plantain trees.
There was also significant damage to pear, breadfruit and pigeon peas trees as well as vegetable cultivation.
Several of the government’s agricultural stations and the Taiwanese Agricultural Mission in Overland were also damaged.
Gonsalves said damage to tourism infrastructure was still being assessed.
He said, however, that a cruise ship calling on Kingstown on Tuesday would donate “food and other materials to person in shelters”.
Gonsalves said initial reports indicate there was no damage to the nation’s ports but he said there were “real problems” with the feeder roads.
“This is an awesome display of nature’s power,” Gonsalves said.
The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has given US$50,000 (EC$135,000) to help to buy some “small things”.
The United States Embassy in Barbados will airlift to St Vincent by Wednesday 100 boxes of plastic sheeting to be used as temporary roofing, in addition to 1,000 hygiene kits and 1,000 water containers.
Gonsalves said he was seeking the assistance of the State Department in securing an emergency loan from the World Bank and the nation was seeking assistance from other allies.
He said he was sending to the Taiwanese government an outline of the nation’s needs even as the ally contributed US$200,000 (EC$0.54 million) in immediate assistance.
Gonsalves, who is also Minister of Finance, said that his government would try to accelerate access to certain pending loans and assistance.
These include €7.5 million (approx. EC$25.16 million /US$9.31 million) for rural transformation from the European Union and EC$5.5 million (US$3.44 million) from the Caribbean Development Bank’s Basic Trust Fund.
The nation would also receive US$1.1 million (EC$2.97 million) for catastrophic risk insurance.
“I want to see how I can get some of these monies diverted,” Gonsalves said.
He further said his government would “move with expedition” to improve the situation of those affected.
“I feel their pain and I have to move with absolute urgency,” he said, adding that he will only attend one part of the state funeral for former prime minister of Barbados, David Thompson, on Wednesday.