Reflecting on the severity of what he witnessed during Sunday’s reconnaissance trip to hurricane-damaged Tortola, Economic Development, Housing, Urban Renewal, Transport and Civil Aviation Minister Guy Joseph advocates going “back to the drawing board” when it comes to how buildings are constructed.
“Not just for government, but for the commercial sector, because the number of commercial buildings I saw that were so badly damaged, it is going to take these businesses some time to get back into operations,” Joseph told reporters at Monday’s pe-Cabinet press briefing.
Noting the enormity of the clean-up effort which will be required to clear the country of downed trees, debris and other hazards, Joseph pointed to the need for islands and their neighbours to have disaster recovery resources that can be mobilized quickly when necessary.
Echoing the prime minister’s sentiments expressed minutes earlier, Joseph also alluded to the need for more robust construction in the face of these increasingly severe weather events.
“A lot of the broken glass was not as a result of flying debris or anything of that nature, it was just the sheer pressure in the area,” he said.
Pointing to several ongoing construction projects, such as schools in Dennery and Choiseul, Joseph suggested a need for the scrutiny and review of building codes for educational and medical infrastructure.
Construction standards are not the only area where care needs to be taken, the Minister explained.
“I had the opportunity to visit the hospital in Tortola…[it] is built against the hill. So you actually cut into the hill – so that one side of the hospital could not be impacted by the wind that much. So in terms of choice of location for facilities, how can we design, and how can we plan in accordance with this? Because it is really a matter of time when we will get hit by hurricanes of that magnitude, seeing the frequency of these storms and what is happening,” the minister said.
He continued: “So I think that in Saint Lucia, me for example, as Minister of Housing, if we are going to be engaged in the construction of public housing, what is the minimum code that we are going to accept?”
Despite his call for improving the resilience of public infrastructure towards severe weather events, he acknowledged more pragmatic concerns. “Would these minimum codes put the price of the house out of range for the average person to be able to afford?”
The visit, according to Joseph, allowed him to get a better sense of certain things Saint Lucia can do to better prepare itself for the next big storm to come her way.
“I was able to drive through Anguilla and Tortola, especially, and be able to have a full assessment, and be able to see a lot of things that could have been done differently as a country to allow us to be better prepared. Because what I said was, if that Category 5 hurricane had hit Saint Lucia…how would we have been able to respond?”