Citizens told ‘stay calm’ as Hurricane Beryl approaches

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

– ROGER JACOB

With Hurricane Beryl now a category four hurricane and bearing down on the Caribbean, Public Utilities Minister Marvin Gonzales has warned of possible disruptions to water and electricity supplies.

But he and his colleagues Rural and Local Government Minister Faris Al-Rawi, Works and Transport Minister Rohan Sinanan and Communications Minister Symon de Nobriga urged the the public to remain calm, get their information from trusted sources and follow the government’s lead in preparing for the hurricane’s impact.

The ministers spoke at a media conference at midday on June 30.

Gonzales said disruption to the electricity and water grids in weather situations such as a hurricane was “almost inevitable.”

“What is important is that we put in place the necessary measures to be able to respond in a safe manner (and) that our crews can respond almost on an instantaneous manner as soon as it is safe to do so.”

Beryl, the first named hurricane of the season, is due to make landfall over a number of islands late on June 30. Tobago and north Trinidad are expected to be affected .

Forecasters upgraded the hurricane to a “very dangerous” category four storm and it was expected to strengthen further as it nears Barbados, Dominica, Grenada and Martinique, among others.

The last major hurricane to affect Tobago was Hurricane Ivan in 2004. Ivan caused damage estimated at $4.9 million. A pregnant woman died after a palm tree fell on her house, pinning her to the bed.

Gonzales said an area command centre had been set up in Scarborough. He also said the TT Electricity Commission (T&TEC), Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA), Solid Waste Management Company (SWMCOL), and Telecommunications Services of TT (TSTT) have all implemented appropriate measures to respond to any damage caused by the hurricane.

“A lot of focus will be placed on the windward side of Tobago. We have set up a mobile generator staging facility at Shaw Park. We have ensured that all our emergency vehicles from (T&TEC) are staged at Shaw Park to ensure that we can respond decisively and in a critical manner to any reports of disruption on that part of the island.”

He said WASA has mobilised equipment across both islands to focus on the areas expected to be affected by the hurricane.

“Excavators etcetera have been placed in northern Trinidad and the windward part of Tobago in the event that WASA’s water infrastructure is impacted.

“All standby generators that have been put in place to support these facilities have been fuelled.

“We have also stockpiled on chemicals to provide up to at least five days of supply to some of the water treatment facilities.

“WASA operators have also been monitoring our emergency shelters to ensure that we have a sufficient supply of water in the event that citizens have to report to some of these emergency senders to protect themselves and their families.”

Gonzales said satellite phones were also tested and will be used by co-ordinating agencies in the event of any disruption of normal phone systems.

What to expect

Al-Rawi explained what the public could expect in the coming days.

“There has been significant saturation of our soils in the weather system that affected us (Friday and Saturday).”Hurricane Beryl will produce more weather patterns involving high winds, rainfall, choppy seas and high alert warnings on the seas.

“Following that, by Wednesday we should see the effects of another system just behind Beryl. That system is currently under watch. It’s not fully in focus, but it’s known as AL 96.

“That means that until Wednesday, we are to expect significant rainfall.”

He said although there may be plenty rainfall, this is not always a good thing for the water-supply system.

“People often say, ‘We just had rain and flood in Trinidad and WASA have no water.’ But because of water turbidity, you’re going to have these filters and the water treatment plants under pressure. You’re going to have to stop the water treatment, clean the filters and reignite the systems.”

He warned people living in flood-prone areas to be prepared, be sensible and take the necessary precautions to safeguard themselves, their families and their belongings.

“Identify what may be a risk in the flooding inevitability that will come.”We don’t want to see people with livestock say, ‘Well, I didn’t know and therefore I lost 3,000 chickens,’ or,  ‘I didn’t move my herd of pigs or sheep to a safer location.’

“We have to expect in the traditional flood zones, in some of the low-lying areas, we are going to see the effect of water and run-off, high tide and low tide. Even if you had massive drains, run-off is going to be affected by soil saturation, high tide and low tide and immense volume.”Turn off your breakers, make sure electricity supply is managed.”

The ministers also told all government employees to report to work on July 1. The Education Ministry issue a statement on Sunday evening that all Trinidad schools will be closed on July 1.The Tobago House of Assembly has said all schools will be closed from tomorrow until further notice.

Free public car parks

Al-Rawi said people who live in flood-prone areas will be allowed to park their cars at Naparima Bowl, Brian Lara Cricket Academy, Southern Academy for the Performing Arts (SAPA), Skinner Park Secondary Field and UPARK at San Fernando General Hospital.

In a statement, the Urban Development Corporation (Udecott) said there will also be parking at the Parkade in Port of Spain from 3 pm on June 30 to midnight on July 1.

CEO of the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Management Rodney Smart called on the public to exercise caution as he warned against trying to navigate floodwaters.

“Please do not walk or drive in floodwaters.”

Smart and Gonzales both emphasised the need for the public to remain calm as the effects of the hurricane intensify.

“Think through what you need to do now with your family. Think about a plan,” said Smart.

“If you are stabilising your home, perfect.”If you must move from a home, you must now start thinking that through (and) have a family preparedness plan.

“In the event that you must leave your home, do ensure that you have a grab-and-go bag ready. Do ensure that you have meals for at least three days ready. And most importantly, do ensure that you consider, if you have pets, that you will need to take care of your pets as well.”

Gonzales urged the public to get their information from trusted sources such as the TT Meteorological Services (TTMS).

“There is a constant habit where unauthorised persons and news sites put information out that can cause severe panic in the national population.

“I want to advise citizens to be very careful of the information that you expose yourself and your family to. Pay close attention to the advisories being disseminated by the TTMS and the ODPM and all official government information.

“Having the accurate and appropriate information to take precautionary measures to protect yourselves and your family is very, very important, and we advise you to be very cautious about receiving information from unauthorised sources.”

Record-breaking hurricane season

Chief meteorologist Shakeer Baig said Hurricane Beryl was the first of what might be a record-breaking hurricane season

“It is a record breaking instance in this case to have a category three or category four hurricane move through the southern Windward Islands this early in the season.”

He said research has shown the climate is changing, with 2024 set to surpass 2023 as the hottest year on record.

Baig said these increasing global temperatures will affect the formation of hurricanes.

“The sea-surface temperature is also rising, and these systems that form over the Atlantic Ocean derive the energy from the warm ocean temperature. So if the oceans are providing higher temperatures, this is obviously going to drive more powerful storms.

“The (US) National Hurricane Center is actually contemplating creating another category for these hurricanes above category five, in anticipation of the development of more powerful storms.

“So once climate change continues and we who live on this planet do absolutely nothing about it, we will see the development of more powerful hurricanes.”

Smart said the evolution of the climate was exactly why the public needs to be constantly prepared.

Meanwhile, Al-Rawi extended prayers and support to the other Caricom countries expected to be affected by Hurricane Beryl.

He said Grenada has declared a state of emergency as it braces for what he described as “serious difficulties with this unprecedentedly strong hurricane.”

Grenada suffered more than US$1 billion in damage when Hurricane Ivan killed 41 people, damaged 28,000 of the 31,000 homes on the island and destroyed the two largest hospitals.

US Embassy cancels visa visits

In a statement on June 30, the US Embassy cancelled all visa appointments and routine American Citizens Services (ACS) for July 1.The embassy will only offer ACS services in life-or-death emergency situations, to US citizens only.US citizens were advised to reschedule their appointments, make the necessary payments online and to contact the embassy before showing up.