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Be Prepared: The Hurricane Season is Here! - July 5, 2004

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Be Prepared:
The Hurricane Season is Here!

Hello Again, St. Lucia,

Today, I am representing St. Lucia at the 25th Caricom Summit in Grenada, but before leaving I decided to speak with you on yet another area of civic responsibility. This time it’s about disaster management and how we should prepare for emergencies and disasters.

It’s Never Too Late…

We are at the beginning of the hurricane season and we are all uneasy because we’ve had an unusual amount of rain for the year. I cannot recall when last we had so much rain in April and May.

E sam kawem fini! Like you, I am worried. However, it’s not too late to be reminded of the need do the things that will protect our lives and property from danger and destruction.

Protecting Ourselves Against Dangers

The weather patterns are changing so much that we never know what to expect.

We saw and heard what happened in Haiti and the Dominican Republic last December, and again last month, and we feel sorry for the victims in those countries. But what about us, right here in St. Lucia?

At the official level, we are now better prepared to respond to disasters. Nearly every constituency now has Disaster Preparedness Committees. Committee Members have been trained to respond to emergencies, whether natural or man-made. The Government has also constructed satellite warehouses containing hurricane and other emergency supplies at points around the island. Such warehouses exist in Gros Islet, Vieux Fort, Dennery South, Micoud North, Vieux Fort South, Choiseul and Canaries. These warehouses exist to provide a first response to those who have suffered after a disaster.

As usual, I have met NEMO to review the arrangements in the event that we have to cope with a hurricane or other disaster this year. In addition, at last count, there were 324 hurricane shelters spread around nine regions of the island, all to ensure that each community, each village and each town are served.

Government has also constructed Gabian Baskets in many areas vulnerable to erosion and landslides.

Only this week, the World Bank approved a loan of EC $7.5 million for further investment in disaster mitigation.

Since its creation, the National Emergency Management Office (NEMO) has been educating the public about the dangers of natural and man-made hazards and the consequences of not being prepared. But even after all these warnings, and with all the support from government with the appropriate laws and enforcement, some of us simply choose to ignore these warnings.

We are prepared, but are you?

Good Lessons From The Past…

I am aware that many in our society are unable to be fully prepared because they may not possess the means to do so. I am reminded though, that in times gone by – especially when I was growing up -- that whenever the hurricane season was upon us, persons in town and country always kept their yards clean, stored water and dry goods and protected their few valuable documents from destruction by putting them in plastic bags or even biscuit tins.

There are lessons in this for all of us. The main lesson, I think, is that irrespective of the value of our possessions, it is our duty to protect them. It is also our duty to avoid behaviour that will endanger the lives of others.

Take Heed…

But disasters are not only about the natural ones like hurricanes and storms. There are also man-made disasters. Yes, there are disasters caused by us, by what we do -- or what we fail to do.

Some recent man-made disasters in Saint Lucia have combined with natural elements to create some unstable areas and empty spaces on our beautiful landscape. I speak of the earth movements a few years ago in Bogius and Black Mallet, for example.

Avoid Danger…

I want to urge all St. Lucians to always listen to sound advice, not to follow the crowd into danger, and to always let good sense prevail. We all have a responsibility to avoid danger and not to court disasters. I urge you to avoid danger. In fact, I encourage you to always move away from danger.

We are all trapped into the fast pace of daily living, paying little attention to the small things that can turn into unexpected dangers. Plastic bags and bottles in drains near homes can reduce the flow of water and create floods and endangering whole communities; an old window placed on top a commercial building in the city can become a dangerous missile; and inaccurate information through the media or any other means can also lead to loss of life.

It would help for each and every one of us to learn from and perhaps adopt the motto of the Boy Scouts movement, which is “Be prepared!”

Every time you are about to spend your last five dollars on something you simply want, think instead of those things you really need -- particularly in this hurricane season. That’s because being prepared is an individual responsibility.

Vulnerable Areas

Whenever I think of disasters, there are some particularly vulnerable areas that spring to mind. These areas are low-lying and very susceptible to flooding. I think, in particular, of Anse La Raye and the Baccaderre in my own constituency in Vieux Fort. It is very important that persons in those communities heed the warnings and the advice of NEMO and the local Disaster Preparedness Committees. Later this year, work will finally commence on improving drainage in Anse La Raye to ease the plight of residents. I know that I could count on my friend, Glenda, and her neighbours in the Baccaderre, to do the right thing – that is, to heed the warnings.

Take Warnings Seriously!

So, once again, I urge each and every one of you to always take hurricane warnings and announcements about disaster preparation seriously. Know where the emergency shelter closest to you is located. Always keep those things at home that you will need in case of an emergency. At the same time, always take note of warnings of dangerous practices that could result in disasters.

We never know when a hurricane will strike or when an emergency will take place. Nor do we know who will need help when a disaster strikes, whether it was man-made or natural. And, of course, there is always the old adage that says that we should always be prepared to lend a hand in times of emergency because the life you save may very well be your own.

A Very Mixed Week…

As I close, I am drawn to reflect on the events of the past week. What a very mixed week it was.

We welcomed and embraced a dear friend of Saint Lucia, Prime Minister P.J. Patterson of Jamaica.

We had to contend with the passing of the great patriot, Sir George Frederick Lawrence Charles. As I said in a special statement on last Monday, “this was a man who gave but did not count the cost, who fought but did not seek rest and who laboured, but for no reward.” I urge all of you to attend the funeral to pay homage to this diminutive man who was uncompromising in his stance for the poor and dispossessed, and unyielding in his respect for the dignity of work.

Then, in the midst of this pain of death, we were told that the Pitons Area was declared a World Heritage Site. Congratulations to the people of Soufriere and indeed to all St. Lucians.

More on these events when I return…

In the meantime, until next Monday, I wish you another good week.


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