Beryl barrels towards Tobago

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Scarborough fishermen pull their boats to safety ahead of the passage of Hurricane Beryl on June 29. – Photo courtesy Curtis Douglas

TOBAGONIANS are expected to experience the effects of Hurricane Beryl from between midnight and 2 am on July 1 as the system barrels toward the southern windwards.

The Met Office issued a tropical storm yellow level alert for Tobago at 10.14 am on June 29, saying that Beryl was heading toward the southeast Caribbean and could intensify into the year’s first hurricane.

This materialised from around 5pm on Saturday and Beryl was upgraded to a category one hurricane.

Earlier, Tobagonians braced for the worst as heavy rains pounded much of the island, still reeling from the aftermath of the February 7 oil spill.

At 10 am, the storm was centred near located 9.9N, about 1,450km east of the island. But the Met Office said there was a low to medium chance (30-40 per cent) of tropical storm force winds affecting Tobago as Beryl approached the southern Windwards.

But by news time, there were no reports of landslides or damage to homes. There also were no reports of panic-buying at groceries and other shopping facilities.

Sunday Newsday learnt, though, there was an electricity outage along Northside Road from Parlatuvier to Hermitage. Bloody Bay and L’Anse Fourmi were among the affected areas.

Due to poor weather conditions, the restoration of supply has been delayed in these areas.

President of the All Tobago Fisherfolk Association Curtis Douglas said fishermen across the island had begun pulling their boats to shore.

“Basically, they are securing their boats. Some are going to the lagoon. They are saying that the rough seas will come in on Monday, so they are not taking any chances.”

Videos of Scarborough and Belle Garden fishermen pulling their boats out of the water were posted on social media.

At a news conference at Fairfield Complex, Bacolet, which came after an emergency meeting with stakeholders, including the Tobago Emergency Management Agency (TEMA), THA Chief Secretary Farley Augustine urged calm.

“Please, this broadcast is not intended to create any anxiety among the public so we want you to remain calm and to see this through logically and scientifically. But we want you to be prepared because the underpinning philosophy of disaster preparedness is to prepare for the worst while praying for the best.”

He said the THA has put systems in place to deal with effects of hurricane-like conditions on the island.

In the meantime, Augustine said the Tobago People’s Party’s internal election, which was due to take place today, has been postponed by one week.

“The decision was taken by me as the interim political leader that those election activities will be postponed until next Sunday, July 7. That is because I will need all members of the executive of the Tobago House of Assembly focussed on THA business tomorrow. This is our priority. So your focus is not getting people to the polls to vote for you or for others. Your business will be the Tobago House of Assembly and the people of Tobago’s business. That takes priority.”

Augustine said all members of the executive must be prepared to act.

For events in Tobago over the weekend, such as the popular Island Crashers beach party at Pigeon Point, he said patrons should exercise caution and be mindful of advisories.

Earlier in the briefing, Carolyn De Coteau, Met Officer II, said Tobago continues to be under a tropical storm watch because the probability of the system affecting the island and having the strong winds associated with a storm, even though it is now a hurricane remains between 30-40 per cent.

“That is what we use as our marker to say we are under a warning or a watch. So we continue to be under a watch at this time,” she said.

“What this means for us is that tomorrow night (June 30) after 12 (midnight) and 2am or so, we are going to start to start experiencing tropical storm force winds which will be 63-118km per hour.”

Saying Trinidad had experienced winds of 65km per hour on June 29, De Coteau said Tobago can expect rainfall associated with the system as well.

“But thankfully the system is moving slightly north of us and as it approaches, it continues to move north. This morning (June 29), it was around 9.9 degrees north. Now it’s at 10.1 degrees north which is very good for us. That means it is veering slightly to the north.

“However, because we are in the cone of uncertainty, we can experience tropical storm force winds and this does not account for the strength or the size of the hurricane and therefore we have to be alert.”

She said it can also create storm surges, whereby the seas can become choppy at times. Heavy showers, gusty winds thunderstorms.

“So it is better to err on the side of cautions and be prepared.”

De Coteau said Beryl is moving quickly at 35km per hour

“So she is moving quickly and intensifying. I don’t know where she is going at that speed.”

TEMA director Allan Stewart said based on the island’s level of preparedness, it is well poised to respond to Beryl.

“We feel very comforted based on the information that we gleaned coming out of the meeting that the levels of preparedness is where it ought to be and with the collaboration with our partners, I feel very strong that we will respond in a manner that you have grown accustomed to,” he said.

Stewart said TEMA’s fleet of vehicles and manpower have improved to respond and coordinate.

He said people should have certain essentials for at least the next 72 hours. These include canned foods, tools, flashlights, radios, batteries. Documents should be stored in sealed packages.

Stewart said shelters will be open to those in distress.

“We recognised coming out of the meeting that there are over 30 shelters across the island that any of those we may look around and make available.”

He said today, TEMA will be able to say exactly which shelters will be open.

Stewart also said six schools and nine centres are likely to be used as shelters.

Augustine said T&TEC, WASA, Tobago Regional Health Authority among other bodies are ready to respond.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Rural Development and Local Government noted that Tropical Storm Beryl was rapidly strengthening and moving towards the West with Grenada and its dependencies being placed under a Hurricane Watch.

The ministry met with several stakeholders on June 29.

In a statement, it said Beryl poses no direct threat to Trinidad, adding municipal corporations were on high alert as rainfall is expected to continue until 1 July 12:00pm.

The ministry said the effects of rainfall, gusty winds and flash flooding are expected from the weather systems.

Prolonged rainfall over several days may also lead to land slippage and street flooding, it added. Sea conditions are also likely to become occasionally rough.

The TT Inter-island Transportation Co Ltd, in a release, said while there is no immediate threat at this time, any severe adverse condition will require all vessels to return to Port of Spain harbour. Hence the situation may require cancellation of sailings and or the scheduling of additional sailings to return passengers to/from Tobago.

It said the public will be advised immediately of any changes to the sailings.