GEORGETOWN, Guyana — Despite the devastation Hurricane Tomas left behind, Saint Lucia is open for business and has identified tourism as the vehicle that will drive the island towards recovery and development.
Prime Minister of Saint Lucia, Stephenson King said last Tuesday that, while the tourism sector was affected by the hurricane, it was nevertheless poised to make a significant impact on the country’s restoration.
He pointed out that Saint Lucia could not allow its robust tourism industry to founder. The tourism belt is in the north of the island which was not as badly affected as other areas such as the community of Fond Saint Jacques, in the town of Soufriere, the Saint Lucia tourism capital. Some hotels remained open throughout the storm but at least one major hotel has closed its doors.
The prime minster was upbeat about the tourism sector when he briefed CARICOM secretary-general, Sir Edwin Carrington, on recovery efforts and what it would take to rehabilitate the affected areas. Carrington visited the island last week, to get a first-hand look at the damage and to discuss the kind of support the Community could render to Saint Lucia.
After meeting with King and viewing a video of the disaster, the secretary-general visited Soufriere, which is home to the Sulphur Springs, a major tourist attraction.
“It’s one thing to have it described to you, but it’s quite another to actually see it. It touches you so deeply,” the secretary-general said, noting that critical and vital sectors were affected.
Hurricane Tomas hit Saint Lucia – known as the Helen of the West — on October 30, battered the south of the island and caused land- and mudslides that felled trees, swept houses off their foundations and buried others, blocked rivers and bridges, made main roads impassable, and rendered sections of communities homeless and landless. Some communities have to be reconstructed, while new ones must be built.
Eight people have been confirmed dead, and six are missing, although residents of some of the affected communities said the true figure of the dead and missing may never be known.
The hurricane has severely affected the country’s main income earner, agriculture, with a total decimation of the important banana industry and about 65 percent destruction of other crops. Livestock drowned in the flood waters. It is estimated that it would take between six and nine months for the agriculture sector to regain its footing.
The education sector was hard hit, with schools losing roofs, furniture, computers and teaching aids. Schools began opening only this week, many on a shift system. The school term has also been extended to cater for the time students spent away from school. About US$7 million is needed to bring the sector back to a semblance of normalcy and the Education Ministry has launched an adopt-a-school programme to help provide support to the education sector.
Utilities and infrastructure were affected and challenges remained in the water sector, particularly in the south of the island.
The damage is estimated, preliminarily, at US$500 million.
But an upbeat King pointed to the quick clean-up operations that were undertaken and the creation of a special unit, the National Reconstruction and Development Unit in the Ministry of Finance that will utilize its national vision plan launched in 2007 to review and plan based on the experiences with hurricane to chart the way forward on national development and reconstruction.