What You Should Know About Hurricanes and Flooding in Trinidad and Tobago?

The Tropical Storm Risk (TSR) Consortium of University College London, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Colorado State University (CSU). predicts a near to above average Atlantic 2018 hurricane season of 12-15 named storms, 6-8 hurricanes, and 3-5 major hurricanes. And for us in the Caribbean, we must be prepared; last year’s devastation of Anguilla, Antigua, Dominica, Monsterrat, Puerto Rico, the U.S. and British Virgin Islands and other Caribbean territories is forever etched in our collective memories.

Our sister island Tobago, slightly north of Trinidad has experienced several direct hits from hurricanes and storms in the past and citizens there know only too well to heed the early warnings and take appropriate action. Here in Trinidad, the major threat during the hurricane season is the risk of attendant flooding and landslides with potential harm to persons, damage to property and disruption of our lives.  The 2018 Hurricane Season officially began on June 1 and ends on November 30. Even though Trinidad is rarely struck by tropical cyclones, due to its low latitude, there have been several near misses and each year there is the threat of resultant flooding and landslide events throughout various parts of the country. The recent flooding of downtown Port of Spain is indicative that flooding will be with us for a longtime, therefore we need to mitigate the consequences of floods and in this regard the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Management (ODPM) advises as follows:

Causes of Flooding

The causes of flooding are well known and documented as essentially natural and manmade. Natural causes include intense and heavy rainfall as well as prolonged rainfall often associated with hurricanes and tropical disturbances when the drainage is unable to handle the increased rainfall. Manmade flooding has many human induced causes such as deforestation, poor land use practices and control, urbanization, improper waste disposal practices and quarrying operations. Addressing these causes is the responsibility of all, the planners, the legislators, regulators, the state and its various agencies and us all as citizens. Let us effectively manage those causes that are within our control and force appropriate action from both citizens and the authorities. Let us protect our environment and communities.

Effects of Flooding.

Effects of flooding are many and varied and include exposures to harm such as loss of life through drownings and electrocution, personal injuries/illnesses from contact with or consumption of contaminated foods and water. Flood damage to property, loss of cherished and often times irreplaceable personal and family items, damage to and destruction of infrastructure, such as roads, utility lines, disruptions of utility services, transportation and communications. Loss of livestock and agricultural produce are also the result of extensive flooding.

Precautionary Measures

  • Before building check the area for signs of or a history of flooding, check ODPM web site for Hazard Maps and take appropriate action, e.g. build on higher ground or avoid flood prone areas altogether.
  • If in a flood prone area purchase flood insurance.
  • Locate homes, buildings away from river banks, flood plains and other flood prone areas.
  • Do not throw garbage, litter, cut branches, old discarded refrigerators, washing machines, and other forms of solid waste into rivers, ravines, canals, drains, etc.
  • Use appropriate available means for waste disposal, bag your waste and used approved bins..
  • Establish and routinely maintain all drainage systems, including underground drains.
  • Construct flood barriers such as sandbags, where necessary to prevent the flooding of our buildings, homes, etc.

 

 

Before the Flood

  • Develop a Family Emergency Plan including an Emergency Evacuation Plan.
  • Ensure that all family members know the immediate and required response actions for their personal safety, these will be stated in the plan.
  • Secure all important documents, such as birth and baptism certificates, passports, academic and professional certificates, insurance certificates and policies in water proof and sealed containers.
  • Secure medication and first aid supplies.
  • Store cherished family portraits, pictures, mementos, paintings, etc. on higher ground or protect them in water proof and sealed containers or covered with plastic material, e.g. use of garbage bags.
  • Secure all chemicals and other hazardous materials.
  • Secure all valuables
  • Park vehicles in higher ground in places that will not flood; avoid parking vehicles in low lying flood prone areas, e.g. some streets of lower Port of Spain
  • Secure pets in a safe area; or if unable so to do, take them with you or let them loose
  • Identify isolation and / or shut off switches or valves for utilities, viz, electricity, gas and water.
  • Ensure adequate storage of water, at least one gal per person per day.
  • Pay attention to the advisories in the print and electronic media.

During the Flood

  • Stay calm and listen to the radio, TV for flood warning updates
  • Move to higher ground or upper levels if threatened
  • Turn off the electricity supply, gas and water at isolation switches or valves.
  • Never underestimate the power of moving water. It takes only 6 inches of moving water to knock persons off their feet and carry them away. One foot of water has been known to put a vehicle out of control, only to be swept up by flood waters.
  • Do not seek shelter under culverts or bridges.
  • Do not play or swim in flood waters and advise children never to play in flood waters.

After the Flood

  • Do not walk, play or swim in flood waters
  • Assess the building for flood damage
  • Use flash lights to investigate buildings for damage such as broken gas lines, down electrical lines, etc.
  • Report broken or down utility lines to the relevant agencies.
  • Watch out for and do not contact live electrical lines or equipment in wet areas.
  • Exercise caution when entering buildings, as these may have sustained damage.
  • Render first aid and as necessary seek medical attention.
  • Do not consume food or water contaminated by flood waters.
  • Boil drinking water for about 10-15 minutes before drinking or alternatively treat the water with bleach – 8 drops of liquid bleach per gal of water and allow to stand for 30 mins.
  • Bury all dead animals as soon as possible.
  • Clear all drains and water courses close to your home of debris as soon as possible.

Remember a flood might be of a relatively short duration, but its consequences may impact both individuals and communities, and have long lasting social, economic, and environmental consequences!

Source: ODPM Communities Organized and Ready for Emergencies (CORE) Publication.

 

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