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Labourers Namchan Ramcharan, left, and Hosein Golcharan of the Penal/Debe Regional Corporation fill sandbags to be given out to residents of the area ahead of the forecasted inclement weather following the passage of tropical storm Gonzalo.

RADHICA DE SILVA

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As Tropical Storm Gonzalo heads toward the Windwards, placing several islands including Tobago under Tropical Storm watch, head of the Office of Disaster Preparedness Rodney Smart is advising all citizens to take precautions ahead of the storm.

Speaking on CNC3’s Morning Brew yesterday, Smart said COVID-19 protocols have been activated in shelters across the country.

Noting that T&T was in a better place than it was a year ago when Tropical Storm Karen battered Tobago, Smart said over the past few months, regular training, simulations and exercises were held with ODPM and Disaster Management Unit (DMU) staff so they could render aid in the event of any natural disaster. With the Metrological Office predicting winds in excess of 85 km per hour, Smart said ODPM was ready to respond.

“Now is not the time to be panicked. We are ready. NGO’s who practice with us and private-sector agencies are ready because we have been training for the past two months. We are prepared to provide the support to T&T and to Grenada as well. We have to be responsible for Grenada, for Guyana and Suriname,” he said.

Meanwhile, senior disaster management coordinator at the Ministry of Local Government Jerry David said the COVID-19 protocols meant that Moore shelters are now opened to accommodate citizens. He said strategic meetings have been held to discuss disaster risk reduction and he too believed that the national agencies were well poised to deal with the disaster.

“Over the last month, we have been training Fire Service officers on how to use a chain saw safely. Municipal corporations deal with the cutting of trees. One of the hazards of a storm is that trees will fall across the highways and roadways. We did that training with them.” David said.

He explained that all shelters have health protocols.

“The municipal corporations manage the shelters. Six weeks ago, every municipal corporation’s DMU was asked to conduct a simulation exercise to become COVID compliant shelters so they had to bring in bodies and simulate that the shelter was begin activated and all protocols for COVID were practised,” David said.

He said a shelter that holds 100 people will be able now to hold less than half of that number because of physical distancing.

He noted that community centres, schools and churches have been activated to be used as shelters.

Minister Kazim Hosein said the distribution of sandbags has already commenced in a few corporations while municipalities have also alerted stakeholders such as councillors, technical teams, shelter managers and Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) volunteers.