Dominicans have gotten a reprieve....of sorts.
Hurricane Beryl, the first of the Atlantic season, weakened early yesterday to a tropical storm but is still expected to hit the island with gale-force winds later today.
Dominica Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit, fresh from the Caricom Heads of Government Meeting in Jamaica, said yesterday while he is comforted by the news of the downgrade, citizens should still prepare for the worst.
“I would say to you that I am comforted by the seriousness with which the various committees have completed their tasks and responsibilities, that clearly we are learning from our experiences and, therefore, we are putting systems in place based on our learned experiences,” he told a media conference, alluding to Hurricane Maria which devastated the island, less than a year ago, last September.
Skerrit urged citizens, still struggling with the effects of last year’s onslaught, to prepare for the storm.
“We can all recall, less than a year, the fury which Maria released upon us in this country. So, I do not want us to relax as individual citizens. I am saying to you that in so far as the State is concerned and the National Emergency Planning Organisation (NEPO) is concerned, we are not taking anything for granted.”
He added: “We are planning for a major storm and we are ensuring that all of the bases are covered in so far as the planning is concerned because whether it is a hurricane, tropical storm, we have to prepare for the worst.”
Hurricane Maria was dubbed the worst natural disaster, on record, to hit Dominica. Some 65 fatalities were confirmed across the island in the wake of its passage.
On Friday, Skerrit, in an interview with State-owned DBS, said the NEPO and the Office of Disaster Management (ODM) will do everything possible to ensure the safety of all the citizens and residents.
“The ODM, they were on tonight and they advised us on a number of things, the NEPO that we should be doing, ought to be doing as individuals, as families, as residents in order to safeguard ourselves. To place ourselves in a safe area if the storm were to visit us,” Skerrit said. He said his Cabinet had started the planning process long before the hurricane season started and Deputy Prime Minister Reginald Austrie held several meetings on Friday with various stakeholders to ensure there were systems and preparations in place to “roll out all of the plans we have, the strategies we have in order to prepare the nation for this approaching hurricane.”
Skerrit did not offer details of the Cabinet’s plans to deal with Beryl but lamented the inadequacy of official hurricane shelters as expressed by the Ag Local Government Commissioner, Glenroy Toussaint.
“We have been able to identify a number of shelters in many communities and there have been private citizens who have made their homes available as hurricane shelters,” he said.
“At the end of the day, we have to look out for each other and we have to reach out to each other and each of us must ensure that we play our part in the safety of every citizen,” Skerrit urged.
Skerrit, who wept openly in a televised interview, last year, in after Maria’s passage, said while the State had a role to play “at the end of the day everyone of us – the churches, the NGO’s, the civil societies, the village councils, the various disaster committees in the respective villages, you know, we all have a part to play, the private sector – all have a part to play in placing the country in a safe situation if the storm were to visit.”
Daniel Carbon, Dominica Chief of Police, who also spoke at yesterday’s news conference, said although Beryl has weakened, people must take necessary precautions.
“As of 11 am (yesterday), Beryl weakened to a tropical storm and the hurricane watch for Dominica was discontinued and Dominica has now been placed under a tropical storm warning,” the prime minister said.
“A tropical storm warning means that tropical storm conditions are expected within the warning area within 36 hours, that is within two days.”
Carbon said Dominica can expect to be directly impacted by strong winds, moderate to heavy rainfall, thunderstorms and dangerous seas.
He urged citizens to monitor Beryl’s progress and make the necessary preparations for its arrival.
A Tropical Storm Watch is now in effect for Barbados, St Lucia, Martinique, Guadeloupe and St Martin.
Meanwhile, the TT Meteorological Service yesterday said TT was not under any hurricane or tropical storm watch or warning.
The Met Office said it cancelled its Adverse Weather Warning #3 - Green Level, early yesterday.
However, it advised that TT should expect occasional showers, which are likely interrupt sunny conditions in varying localities.
The Met Office advised citizens to monitor weather conditions and maintain a state of preparedness.