Caribbean governments activated the Barbados-based Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) in the past week. Heavy rains triggered flash floods and mudslides in several of the smaller Eastern Caribbean islands, St. Vincent in particular, killing more than a dozen people, ruining plans for the Christmas season and leaving thousands without power and water supplies in the subregion.
The unusually heavy rains on Christmas Eve pounded St. Lucia, St. Vincent and Dominica and covered a wide geographic area as far north as Antigua and all the way down south to Guyana and Suriname, where the bad weather put a damper on activities for the festive season as authorities reported the deaths of more than a dozen people.
The disaster pushed governments in Trinidad, Guyana, Jamaica, Barbados and others that weren’t as badly affected by the year-end rains to offer assistance to St. Lucia and St. Vincent and forced CDEMA officials to open the doors of its warehouse to rush supplies to the affected islands.
St. Lucian Prime Minister Kenneth Anthony said very few people can recall such heavy and intense rains ocurring at this time of the year, as the island mourned the dead as well as injuries to dozens and the displacement of many families across the country.
Ralph Gonsalves, the prime minister of neighboring St. Vincent, cut short a brief holiday in London after meeting Pope Francis in Italy to return home to coordinate relief and recovery efforts. Gonsalves lost a cousin, Cassian Gonsalves, when a massive mudslide crashed through his home. Several are reported missing both in St. Lucia and St. Vincent, where so far 13 people have been confirmed as dead in the two nations.
In the worst of the fatalities, a family of five was killed in St. Vincent when a nearby house was swept into their home, burying them in the rubble. As an indication of the intensity of the rains, the runways of both of St. Lucia’s lifeline airports were either flooded or littered with debris, forcing flight cancellations and stranding tourists and other passengers.
Power, in the meantime, was being gradually restored in St. Lucia, but several communities in St. Vincent fared worse, as they remained cut off by debris and mudslides and would have to endure darkness for a few more days still, as authorities battle to get assistance to them and move to restore crucial services.
But even as neighboring CARICOM governments moved to help the affected islands, the Washington-based Organization of American States (OAS) said it was tapping into member nations in the hemispheric body to mobilize assistance to the subregion.
“This is very bad news, even more that it has occurred on Christmas Day. The unseasonable nature of the heavy rains and flooding raises once again the impact of climate change in the Caribbean region,” said OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza.