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Prime Minister Allen Chastanet convened a Monday morning pre-Cabinet press briefing to report on his delegation’s visit to Tortola.
Presentations from both him and Minister Guy Joseph further shed light on the enormity of the recovery task ahead for the islands that suffered the ravages of Hurricane Irma.
The team, without communications consultant Lionel Ellis, who stayed behind to continue to provide support in that area, returned with a clearer idea of how to move forward with disaster recovery assistance.
“The immediate purpose of our visit was to see where is it we can continue to play a role. So, the OECS has played an unprecedented role in this recent hurricane. And the reason for that is when we looked at the magnitude of Irma, we felt that we ought to do things and prepare ourselves to augment CDEMA [Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency],” Chastanet said.
He continued by explaining why all islands need to maintain readiness to offer disaster recovery assistance.
“At one point, it looked like Irma was going to impact Antigua and St. Kitts and possibly even Guadeloupe, which meant that Saint Lucia, Martinique and Barbados would have been the closest international airports available for any extractions.”
Because of the wind and water damage inflicted to airports in the US Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, and Miami, Chastanet said “the traditional areas of support that we would have gotten were not accessible to us…the situation was further complicated when there was an 8.1 magnitude earthquake in Mexico, because the Mexicans were going to be providing us with assistance.”
Chastanet thanked the governments of Venezuela and Trinidad & Tobago for lending their immediate support to the citizens of Antigua & Barbuda, noting that the looming presence of Jose had made the immediate evacuation of Barbuda a critical necessity.
The current chair of the OECS called for more regional cooperation in disaster preparedness and recovery planning, pointing to the need to reduce bureaucratic hurdles that impede immediate coordination with affected countries that lie outside the CARICOM umbrella.
“I want to say that all the heads of the OECS are very concerned, because we know that we have a vested interest in the safety and the protection of all the people in the BVI, Anguilla, St. Martin and the US territories, because they are our nationals, in many cases.”
The prime minister intends to meet with British, French and Dutch officials to find ways to facilitate CDEMA’s ability to immediately render aid to their Caribbean territories, since it is the neighbouring islands who are best placed to provide such badly needed assistance – food, medicine, security, and logistics.
Chastanet further reported that a Saint Lucia desk had been established in the British Virgin Islands to locate and render direct assistance to Saint Lucians resident in affected areas.
“Funds that we’ve put into NEMO will be maintained in NEMO and will help facilitate bringing people home, and facilitate bringing special materials to them…and we’ll be doing so in conjunction with and co-ordination with CDEMA and with the government in the British Virgin Islands.”
Anyone with information regarding Saint Lucian citizens living in affected islands can contact [email protected] or NEMO (452-3802) with information including names, dates of birth, passport/id data, current address, telephone number, email address, and physical description.
An OECS Heads meeting is scheduled for Wednesday so that Prime Ministers Chastanet and Skerrit [of the Commonwealth of Dominica] can brief their counterparts on their findings and plan the next steps of the recovery efforts.
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