PM: We didn't have enough inflatables for disaster

The state fell down on two ar­eas in the re­cent flood dis­as­ter - lack of suf­fi­cient in­flat­able ves­sels and in­stances con­cern­ing peo­ple in the deep­est wa­ter in the deep­est part of com­mu­ni­ties who didn't want to leave their homes.

Prime Min­is­ter Dr Kei­th Row­ley con­firmed this at Thurs­day's week­ly Gov­ern­ment me­dia brief­ing.

He said agen­cies got food and wa­ter to peo­ple rea­son­ably well and he'd been pleas­ant­ly sur­prised to see peo­ple in some shel­ters with meals when he went out ear­ly last Sat­ur­day. But there are some ar­eas which re­quire im­me­di­ate im­prove­ment, he said.

"I don't think we had enough in­flat­able ves­sels to cov­er the large num­ber of ar­eas with heavy wa­ter such as St He­le­na and San­gre Grande. We need to pre­pare our­selves bet­ter with in­flat­a­bles for the Coast Guard and Fire Ser­vices," Row­ley said.

The area in which things fell down the most, he added, con­cerned peo­ple in the deep­est wa­ter and deep­est parts of com­mu­ni­ties with very, very lim­it­ed ac­cess.

"Many in­stances, we got re­ports from Coast Guard that peo­ple, even though their hous­es were un­der wa­ter - es­pe­cial­ly with mul­ti-storey units- they didn't want to leave and they re­mained in the flood­ed ar­eas and ex­pect­ed to be ser­viced while in that con­di­tion. We weren't prop­er­ly pre­pared for the large num­ber of peo­ple who end­ed up in that sit­u­a­tion. Many were of­fered help to get out to more eas­i­ly ser­viced ar­eas but chose to re­main," Row­ley said.

The PM added, "I un­der­stand why. In many in­stances, you're com­fort­able in your home than in shel­ters which are a shared en­vi­ron­ment - one or two toi­lets etcetera - peo­ple rather stay in their homes and main­tain pri­va­cy even though a down­stairs might be flood­ed. They ex­pect­ed the wa­ter would re­cede and in some ar­eas, drain­ing-off oc­curred quick­ly. In oth­ers, it didn't go down fast."

Row­ley said the han­dling of the sit­u­a­tion was no rea­son for "us to tear each oth­er apart."

"It's rea­son for us to feel proud on how those unim­pact­ed by the sit­u­a­tion re­spond­ed to those im­pact­ed," the PM said.

"There's a role for the state and al­ways a role for oth­ers not on the state pay­roll. In this, a lot of good hap­pened and a lot of lessons are to be learned...So much hap­pened and so many things were han­dled suc­cess­ful­ly, things we can build on and ar­eas of short­com­ings we can strength­en go­ing for­ward."

He al­so said there wasn't much T&T could have ex­pect­ed from Cari­com: dry food, clothes, wa­ter.

"Trinidad and To­ba­go han­dled our­selves pret­ty well. The com­plaint now is who's get­ting how much of what. But Trinidad and To­ba­go's the land of the smart­man and woman, we have to en­sure the aid and re­lief reach those af­fect­ed."

Row­ley said in the Caribbean Dis­as­ter Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency (re­gion­al dis­as­ter re­sponse) de­f­i­n­i­tion, T&T's floods were a Thresh­old One lev­el, mean­ing on­ly part of the coun­try was af­fect­ed and T&T could have han­dled the mat­ter in­ter­nal­ly.

Say­ing the ODPM isn't a first re­spon­der but rather Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment bod­ies were, he added, "On a prac­ti­cal lev­el, your neigh­bour is your first re­spon­der - the first to see or hear your dis­tress - and a lot of that hap­pened in this sit­u­a­tion."

- by Gail Alexander

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