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Reaching Out To Grenada and Jamaica! - September 13, 2004

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Reaching Out To
Grenada and Jamaica!


Fellow St. Lucians,

As I speak with you, the people of Jamaica and Grenada are trying to come terms with the incalculable destruction unleashed on their islands by “Ivan the Terrible”. This was a hurricane of “shock and awe”, of death and destruction. Our hearts and prayers must go out to every family, every man, woman and child who suffered losses from the wrath of this vengeful hurricane. It is a season of death, destruction and woe. These are difficult and perilous times for our region and our community.


Here at home, I want to compliment our people for the orderly and patient manner in which they conducted themselves during the passage of Hurricane Ivan. Five days after its passage, we continue to thank God for having been spared the full effects of that powerful Category 4 hurricane. Our National Emergency response mechanisms performed well. The National Management Emergency Organisation (NEMO), the Disaster Preparedness Committees, the Emergency Organising Committees, the various volunteers, all did their part in this massive exercise. People responded positively to instructions as the nation followed the weather system on radio and TV. The press too played a positive part in disseminating information and ensuring we tracked Ivan at every twist and turn. We did well, but there are still things we can do better. More of that on another occasion…


As we speak, Grenada has been declared a disaster area. Over 90% of the country was affected. Thousands of homes were destroyed, leaving thousands of families homeless. There’s no water or electricity. Land lines are down and cell phones are out. Food supplies are running out. Scenes of utter devastation have been shown on TV. Communities are cut off. People are disconnected. Relatives cannot find out about each other. Some twenty persons are known to have died so far. The number is expected to rise. The cost of the damage has been estimated at EC $ 2 billion. The deterioration in security has been arrested and calm is being restored. Without calm or security, Grenadians will not be able to rebuild their shattered country and economy. The damage in Jamaica is also enormous, but the details are only now emerging.


There are many lessons we can learn from the passage of Hurricane Ivan. Yes, we were spared yet again. However, what we are seeing in Grenada and Jamaica is a reminder of what could have happened to us. It is also a stark reminder of what can still happen to us if and when our luck runs out.

Despite all the evidence around us in Grenada, St. Vincent, Barbados, Florida, and yes, Jamaica, some of us still take hurricane and storm warnings lightly. Some among us say that we wasted money buying hurricane supplies, and there was no need to have closed down schools, business places and government offices. I guess that with hindsight it is easy to offer such opinions, misguided as they are.


We must never be lulled into a false sense of security just because we have been spared. That temptation must be stoutly resisted. Those of us who are old enough to remember hurricanes like Janet, David, Allen or Hugo must share those memories with our children and the young. And those old enough to remember the effects of Tropical Storms Debbie and Lilly must not forget.

The fact that our emergency response mechanisms worked well throughout the period of alert is a good sign that our investment in disaster preparedness over the years is paying off. The response mechanisms that we activated during the passage of Hurricane Ivan were really part of a successful dry run, a practise, a drill for what would be the case if we were hit. But there could be an occasion when no amount of preparation could prevent the destruction unleashed by a hurricane as powerful as “Ivan the Terrible.”

If, like Jamaica or Grenada, we had been hit by the hurricane, our story would have been much different. As was the case after Hurricane Allen in 1980, instead of counting galvanized sheets or banana trees, today we would be counting lost lives, destroyed homes and displaced people. Our emergency shelters would still be full. Our roads would have been blocked. There would have been no electricity, telephone or cell phone services. Hospitals would be damaged. Schools would be destroyed. Then – and only then – would we have seen the true test of our emergency services.


While we count our blessings and thank God for being spared it is now time for us to reach out to our brothers and sisters in Grenada and Jamaica. We must all do whatever we can, in whatever little way, to help. We often describe the Caribbean as “family”. This is an occasion to express and live our values as a regional family.

The Government is already doing its part. On Wednesday, I announced that NEMO will establish an appeal fund to which you are asked to contribute. The Police Force has also established its own assistance fund in which members are being asked to contribute to the welfare of their colleagues in Grenada, many of whom have also lost their homes. On Wednesday evening, a contingent of local police officers was also dispatched to join the regional response to assist in the restoration of law and order. A crew from LUCELEC is on standby to travel to Grenada to assist in the restoration of electricity. The government is also working with the regional disaster agency, CEDERA, to address the immediate needs of the Grenadian people.

But even more is happening. On Friday, the coast guard vessel, the Alphonse Reynolds, left St. Lucia with relief supplies for Grenada. Some of those supplies were made available by members of the Grenadian community in St. Lucia. The St. Lucia coast guard vessel was accompanied by another from Dominica, and they led a convoy of power boats from St. Lucia in a joint initiative taken by local boat owners committed to helping our neighbours in Grenada. The flotilla carried supplies from local private sector agencies, relief agencies and service organisations as well as from individuals with relatives and friends in Grenada.

Private citizens are also chipping in. I know of a local car dealer and airline pilot with Grenadian connections who chartered aircraft to fly supplies in to Grenada as early as Wednesday. He also made arrangements to assist stranded American students from the St. George’s University to get to St. Lucia so they could make their way home from here. Several members of the local business community have mobilised food, water and other relief supplies for Grenada. Much has already been shipped and much more is also on the way.

This past week, NEMO established disaster relief accounts at six local commercial banks, where each of us can make cash contributions to the rehabilitation and assistance effort for Grenada.

On Wednesday, I also called on the education authorities to consider beginning an appeal fund at the various schools, asking each student to donate at least 50 cents to help a fellow student in Grenada. That too will be of much help. Incidentally, we may have to accommodate Grenadian students in St. Lucia until such time that their schools become operational.

Every business place should arrange for cash donations from employees, no matter how small, to help our Grenadian brothers and sisters.

In times like these it is important for us to show that we care. I clearly recall that when it was our turn to request Grenada’s help to house our prisoners after the problems at the Royal Gaol, it was a hard decision to take, but the Grenada Government agreed. Now it is our turn to help Grenada. In the same way that we are prepared to accommodate Grenadian students and citizens (such as the elderly and children) in distress, if Grenada needs our help to accommodate prisoners, we will not hesitate to agree to such a request.

However, Grenada needs much more than our prayers and other expressions of sorrow. Our brothers and sisters need food and water. They need to rebuild their homes and their lives. They need to restore their services, their hospitals, their institutions. They need help to rebuild.


Ivan was not the first nor will it be the last hurricane for the season. There are others behind. We know they will come, but we do not know when or from where. Nor do we know if they will hit us.

That is the nature of hurricanes. They are unpredictable. They come in broad daylight and in the dark of night. Hurricane warnings are all we have to help us be prepared.

Thanks to continuing improvements in met technology, we can track the hurricanes better now than ever before. But we are yet to invent the means of guiding them or of escaping them.

This is why we must always take each and every hurricane or storm warning seriously. Each one could be “The Big One”. We may escape today, but we may not tomorrow. It is Grenada’s and Jamaica’s turn today, but it could be ours tomorrow, or the day after. It’s never over until the season is over. Indeed, do not forget or ignore the fact that the official hurricane season ends on October 30, 2004. And even then, the next season begins in less than one year’s time.

So, we need to ensure that we always take heed. It is our duty, to ourselves and to our families, to be prepared. The alternative is too costly to contemplate.

Until next Monday do take care and remember, spare a thought for the people of Grenada and Jamaica and do whatever you can to help, no matter how small.

May God continue to bless us.


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