Business rallies to help flood victims
By Sasha Harrinanan Thursday, August 23 2012
CORPORATE Trinidad and Tobago has responded like never before to an unprecedented natural disaster in western Trinidad. In the pre-dawn hours of Saturday August 11 at least four inches of rainfall drenched the hillsides and valleys of communities such as Alyce Glen, Carenage, Chaguaramas, Diamond Vale, La Puerta, Moka, Morne Coco and Petit Valley. Massive flooding and landslides soon followed, ripping up the paved surfaces of many streets, destroying a large chunk of the La Horquette Valley Road in Glencoe, damaging or destroying bridges, and wreaking devastation on numerous homes and businesses.
Sadly two men from Diego Martin lost their lives in landslides — Everol Bentham of Upper La Puerta and Solomon Britto of RichPlain. Speaking with the media last week Tuesday, DMRC Chairman and Incident Commander, Anthony Sammy, said the Bentham and Britto families would be given assistance and help meeting the cost of the funerals.
The Diego Martin Regional Corporation (DMRC) estimated the property damage to be “in excess” of $109 million. According to Sammy, 12 homes had been destroyed and were worth an estimated $98,750,000 while 50 other homes had lost retaining walls, replacement of which was estimated at $5 million.
Washing machines, refrigerators and beds were among the household items ‘written off’ at 968 homes, but Sammy did not provide cost valuations for these items during last Tuesday’s press conference at the corporation’s Transport Yard on the North Post Road. Even before this preliminary cost was made public on August 14, a range of businesses had already either donated relief items or offered special flood-relief discounts. Afterward, several more decided to offer flood-relief discounts to customers. Some required proof of flood-related damage to access these special prices while others chose to limit their sales to stores in the affected areas.
Stories abounded of the generosity and help of individuals and corporate citizens alike, who had either seen the situation first-hand or heard about it on radio/television bulletins that rainy, dreary Saturday almost two weeks ago.
Several home owners told Business Day about local contractors who showed up in their neighbourhoods within hours after the rain had stopped to help remove the thick slush, mud and debris which now covered much of their properties. All done at no cost to either the affected persons or the DMRC; co-ordinator of the clean-up and recovery efforts.
One such contractor was Coosal’s Groups of Companies. Managing Director, Sieunarine Coosal, told Business Day he felt compelled to volunteer his crew and equipment after seeing the devastation on the 7 pm news that rainy Saturday. “The very next day, Sunday, we sent out trucks, excavators, bobcats, water trucks, backhoes, whatever we thought was needed. Our crews spent all of Sunday and Monday helping to clean-up communities across western Trinidad. Nothing was billable, everything was done for free,” Coosal said.
A new school year begins in less than two weeks, which posed another set of worries for parents already grappling with the loss of possessions or even worse, their homes — replacing their children’s school books, uniforms, shoes, stationery, you name it. Chances were if your home was badly affected by the floods and/or landslides, anything school-related was ruined or missing.
That’s why John Dickenson and Company West Indies Limited decided to donate school supplies to the DMRC for distribution to those in need. Described as “generous” by Sammy, John Dickenson last week gave the Corporation an unspecified quantity of soap, toilet paper, napkins, pens, note books, exercise books and other schools supplies. In a statement thanking the company, Sammy reminded those who wish to help to “continue sending their donations to the DMRC’s Disaster Management Unit located on the North Coast Road.”
Some companies chose to place advertisements in the daily newspapers late last week, announcing their flood-relief specials. Chief among them were subsidiaries of the ANSA McAL Group of Companies and the Caribbean-wide chain of home furnishings stores, Courts.
Speaking with Business Day following the August 14 release of the Group’s unaudited Q2 results, Group Chief Operating Officer, Gerry Brooks, said we are not going to be asking anybody for any proof that they’ve been affected.”
However he said the sale would be limited to the Cocorite, Diego Martin and South Quay, Port-of-Spain outlets of ABEL, Bestcrete, Penta and Sissons. Another Group subsidiary, home furnishings chain Standards, also participated in the flood-relief sale.
“Whether it is refridgerators, televisions, personal computers, beds or mattresses,” Brooks noted, “Standards will also be offering a special sale.” ANSA Chemicals also helped out with clean-up efforts in the west, donating several pallets of bleach to the DMRC.
Drinking water has also been given to the Corporation. Chairman of Blue Waters Products Limited, Dominic Hadeed, last week confirmed his company had “donated over 24,000 bottles of water to the Diego Martin Regional Corporation.” Meanwhile Courts’ offer required a letter from the relevant regional corporation, confirming the person wishing to buy items at flood-relief prices had indeed been affected the August 11 disaster. Once that letter was provided, customers were given until August 25 (two days from today) to take advantage of a 20 percent discount on mattresses and divans, as well as ten percent off major appliances and furniture. Courts’ ad also said “shop on credit and get payment protection for flood or fire damage.”
Anyone or any company not sure of what supplies were most needed could seek guidance from the Trinidad and Tobago Chamber of Industry and Commerce (Chamber), which last Friday announced an “e-campaign” to help co-ordinate donations. “Any interested member of the private sector can visit our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/TTCIC,” the Chamber stated. The organisation chose to focus its efforts on helping two charities in their efforts to obtain much-needed non-perishable goods and clean-up related items — the TT Red Cross and the Foundation for the Enhancement and Enrichment of Life (FEEL).
The Chamber also encouraged those interested in making cash donations to do so via FEEL’s Scotiabank account, 1200274. Insurance claims are looming on the horizon for both claimants and their insurers. Some persons lost their documentation, others have yet to submit a claim but once they do, at least one insurance company is reportedly ready to handle things efficiently.
That’s according to ANSA McAL’s Group Chairman and CEO, Norman Sabga. When Business Day asked him about the expected impact of the floods and landslides on sales at its construction-related holdings, Sabga said that was a secondary matter.
He explained that Trinidad and Tobago Insurance Limited’s (TATIL) first concern was quick settlement of claims. “We’re expecting quite a few claims coming through, which we will try to address and settle as quickly as possible because everyone will need to bring their life back to normalcy.”
“Whether fortunately or unfortunately,” Sabga added, “the Group really is involved in many, many areas of the economy (including) building materials, paint, furniture, appliances. So clearly some of our businesses will sell product to these people and hopefully, they will buy the best at the best prices, at the best quality.”
Asked how many claims were likely to be made based on the August 11 floods and landslides, Sabga said it was too early to provide such an estimate.
“But we don’t envisage our claims being hugely significant in terms of our bottom line because quite a lot of it is re-insurance. So the effect may be fairly significant to TATIL, but in terms of the whole Group’s business, it will be quite small.” The Association of Trinidad and Tobago Insurance Companies (ATTIC) has also “weighed in” on the mater, echoing Sabga’s statement last week that it was still too early to estimate losses.
However ATTIC did say insurance claims from these floods/landslides would equal or exceed those from last year, particularly for motor vehicles.
Those who did not have insurance were expected to apply for various Government grants to help re-build their homes and in some cases, restart their small businesses. Below is a list of available grants, as stated last week by Social Development Minister Dr Glenn Ramadharsingh, during a public meeting at the Diego Martin Central Community Centre:
However Ramadharsingh cautioned these grants would not be issued until they had been cleared with the DMRC’s Emergency Operations Centre. In addition, tomorrow (August 24) was the deadline set by the authorities to apply for a grant. This was meant to avoid verification problems that often occur when persons apply for monetary assistance months after the incident in question.
The TT Red Cross has played a significant role in the disaster response, including manning two shelters in Diego Martin; La Sieva Community Centre and Diego Martin Central Community Centre. Though the corporate and private response has been great so far, the Red Cross cautioned against thinking the need to give was over. Far from it, according to a statement issued by the volunteer medical organisation late last week.