ABOUT three hours before the 6 pm estimated landfall of a tropical cyclone, the storm shelter set up at the new Belmont Community Centre received its first client seeking refuge. The 76-year-old former construction worker and father of grown children did not wish to divulge his identity, but agreed to speak to Newsday.
As we spoke, Belmont Community Council president Brian Cooper began erecting the first out of an estimated two dozen aluminium and canvas cots, in the spacious, comfortable area upstairs designated as a dormitory. Council member Christine Telesford assured that the facility also offered a kitchen and a fully-equipped laundry.
Cooper said the shelter facility was open to anyone in need.
"Udecott supplied us with beds, blankets, toilet paper, gloves and face masks.
"Here we have our first shelter person, from St Ann's. We are making him feel at home."
While a plaque outside recalled the centre's recent launch, Cooper noted that, hitherto, the centre had not opened for public activities, until now.
"We are opening our arms to our people who are in need. We'll be here whole night and we'll return tomorrow to see how things run and manage it properly. I thank each and everyone who helped bring this shelter to life."
Telesford added, "All who come, we do not want that anyone is turned away."
Newsday spoke to the shelter client, amid the comforting yet exhilarating smell of freshly-painted walls, even as the drizzle grew stronger outside.
He said how amazed he was at how nice the building was.
"I don't know if there is any other such facility in another community, but this is top-of-the-line as far as I'm concerned."
He said he had heard about the facility and then someone made some phone calls on his behalf to get him in ahead of the impending storm.
"In fact I don't even think I deserve to be enjoying this."
Asked if the centre was safer than his own home, he said that it was not just safer but "absolutely safer."
He said, "It is extremely safe here. In fact, probably it is safer than 95 per cent of buildings in TT."
Asked if his home felt precarious in the face of a storm, he said yes, although he had recently cleared a nearby tree.
"I was uncertain if I would be able to use it (that is, his house) during the storm, so I just decided to try here. Much to my surprise, it's very beautiful."
He said while his house was made of concrete, not wood, it was old.
"I think it is vulnerable."
He said no one else was left at his house.
"I didn't even know where this place was, but I said, 'Let me give it a shot.' I'm very surprised at the quality of the building – the design and the workmanship. It's astounding. Everything is really nice, the paint on the wall, the colours."
Hoping someone would soon donate a doormat, he said, "It is so clean and so beautiful here, it would be a shame if it is not well-protected."
Newsday tried out the cots, which felt firmly bracing yet reassuring and comfortable.