Trinidad & Tobago, one of the Caribbean’s richer nations, has always been quick to offer its resources to its neighbours in the hurricane belt and during times of crisis. So how did the republic cope in mid-October when it suffered what some officials described as the worst flooding in more than 50 years?
Caribbean Intelligence© has been looking at the highs and lows of Trinidad’s coping capacity:
- Trinidad is used to annual flood problems in its flat central areas, once the home of its sugar industry. However, the floods of October 2018 were much more widespread and led the Office of the Prime Minister to state on social media on 20 October: “This is a national disaster, the flooding is quite widespread and quite severe and it is going to cost a lot of money to bring relief to people who have been affected. Notwithstanding whatever shortages we are experiencing, we will have to find the resources to help.”
- Trinidadians have always been massive users of social media and many of their immediate responses could be tracked there. Instant acts of kindness were to be seen everywhere, as those with access to boats set off to rescue people seen wading through waist-high waters. The rescuers filmed their operations and posted them on social media across the weekend. The woman who brought out her gas canister and cooking stove in ankle-deep water to make food for her neighbours, as some of them did fete-like dances in the wet street, reminded anyone familiar with Trinidad of how resilient Trinis can turn everything, even disaster, into a friendly lime [get-together].
- On the serious side, National Security Minister Stuart Young said that 3,500 households had been affected in one weekend of flooding, with between 100,000 and 120,000 people affected. “National disaster declared” said the Trinidad Express headline on 20 October.
- The weekend saw Prime Minister Keith Rowley, members of the cabinet and defence officials touring areas in east, central and south Trinidad. A political war of words broke out over opposition comments about the visibility of ministers, prompting Stuart Young to point out that the flooding was “not about the photo opportunity”.
- Official media and social media were flooded (so to speak) with reports of random acts of kindness. One pair of brothers filmed their own rescue work and posted it on YouTube. People banded together to get those with disabilities out of their homes. One newspaper called it “a flood of caring”.
- Separate to the DIY rescue missions of Trinidadians with boats, trucks and SUVs, the official rescue operations by the Coast Guard kicked in, as people were rescued and taken to designated shelters.
- Trinidad, which had been outlining a strategy to capitalise on being outside the hurricane belt, has always been big on fundraising when natural disaster has hit its neighbours. This time, it was the role of its foreign-based and local celebrities and its Diaspora to step up to the plate. Diplomats abroad, the business community and local banks announced official channels for donations and crowdfunding support. Trinidad-born rapper Nicki MIinaj said on social media that she was digging deep and would put her money where her mouth was. Cricket star Brian Lara also announced his Friends for a Cause football charity match.
- In the past, it has been Trinidad which has sent in its coastguard, planes and utility restoration teams to help its neighbours repair the damage wrought by Mother Nature. This time, it was the turn of Trinidad’s neighbours who pledged support. Even the Pope offered solidarity with Trinidad.
- The roll-out of rapid response units, which had been due anyway, was put into operation immediately. Even officers in the police and the defence force who had been personally affected turning up for duty. Defence force officials later discussed providing their affected team members with special leave to clean up their own personal flood-related problems.
- Following a government announcement of cheques for up to TT$20,000 and grants of up to $10,000 for affected householders, large numbers turned up at various sporting venues allocated for collection of cheques approved by government.
- In the follow-up period, some roads and coastal areas in low-lying areas, such as Mayaro and El Socorro, remained under water. However, many affected areas found the waters subsiding by 23 October. Stuart Young said: “The world’s weather and climate patterns are changing,” adding that Trinidad was already acquiring additional boats and generators following this experience. “We’re not waiting for the next event,” the minister said.