Description of the disaster
On Tuesday, 16 October 2018, the Trinidad and Tobago Meteorological Office (TTMS) issued an Adverse Weather Alert (Yellow Level) that predicted showers and thunderstorms due to the presence of an Inter-Tropical Convergent Zone (ITCZ); the warning was in place for 17-19 October. On Thursday, 18 October, the TTMS upgraded the alert to Orange Level, as the ITCZ continued to produce intermittent periods of rainfall and thunderstorms. Late Thursday, 18 October, the TTMS issued a Riverine Flood Alert (Red Level), as river levels exceeded threshold levels and some of them overflowed their banks. Since additional rainfall was forecasted, river levels were expected to remain elevated for the next several days.
On Friday, 19 October, the Piarco International Airport was closed for several hours, as the weather made it impossible for aircraft to land, and the surrounding roadways were flooded. That same day, the ODPM issued Public Advisory #8 at 2031 hours, which alerted the TTRCS Disaster Management system of an ongoing life-threatening operation in the Greenvale Park community of La Horquetta, where residents were stranded on their roofs due to the rapid onset of floodwaters.
On Saturday, 20 October a national newspaper described the floods as ‘catastrophic’ (Trinidad Express 20 Oct. 2018), and the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service (TTPS) advised that the main north-south highway was impassable; nevertheless, the country’s President did not issue an official national disaster declaration in accordance with the Disaster Measures Act. The persistent rainfall caused flooding in approximately 80 per cent of the country, primarily the north, east, south and central parts of 2 | P a g e 100,000 to 150,000 people. Additionally, official reports from ODPM and CDEMA indicated that 800 people sought shelter in collective centers during the peak of the emergency; however, within 10 days post impact all collective shelters were closed as affected people returned home to begin the cleanup process.
The TTRCS conducted several types of assessments that led to the development of the operational strategy and Plan of Action. During the first seven days post impact the TTRCS conducted rapid assessments. Since this was the largest scale disaster experienced with several communities affected spanning all areas of the country, the TTRCS had to conduct rapid assessments to determine priority areas for intervention. These assessments led to the selection of the four priority communities of St. Helena, Sangre Grande, Mafeking and Penal. These had significant impact and relief was not being provided effectively by other actors due to the inability to reach people in the most remote areas. The TTRCS employed its strong stakeholder partnerships with civil society groups to ensure the most vulnerable were identified. These groups helped to pinpoint remote areas that relief had not been distributed and where families were in need of assistance. The National Society then conducted door-to-door detailed assessments in these areas to identify the target of 500 beneficiary families.
Summary of response
Overview of Host National Society
On 19 October 2018, the TTRCS mobilized an 11-member team of responders, which included shelter management, psychosocial support (PSS), medical and coordination specialists, to conduct an initial assessment and provide medical support in the event of injuries during the rescue operations. Upon their arrival in the community of La Horquetta, the team had to transition from assessment to response mode because rescued residents were being housed at a multipurpose sporting complex and a primary school approximately one mile from the impacted zone. The deployed TTRCS personnel engaged in shelter support to ensure that proper emergency shelter procedures were implemented, such as the registration of residents, dormitory management and that the affected population’s psychosocial needs were met; the situation was exacerbated by the many children who had become separated from their parents due to the emergency.
The TTRCS’s medical team and the two ambulances it had at its disposal supported the National Society’s rescue operations through the transportation of injured people to health facilities and the evacuation of persons with special needs; the team also conducted a rapid medical evaluation of the rescued people, as these people had been stranded for several hours and partially submerged in floodwaters during that time in many cases.
During the response phase, the TTRCS Disaster Response Team set up a forward operating base (FOB) at the La Horquetta South Primary School which allowed the TTRCS to situate its Incident Command Centre closer to the main impact sites. Deployment of response teams was done from the FOB which ensured timely feedback from the field with initial damage assessment information to inform the Plan of Action. The TTRCS Disaster Management Plan was put into action to mobilize response teams from the North Branch and South Branch to provide support with volunteers, vehicles and other resources. The North Branch was primarily responsible for work in Mafeking, Sangre Grande and St. Helena while the South Branch managed the response in the Penal area.
After the DREF was approved, with the support of the first two RITs who were deployed, the TTRCS quickly mobilized to conduct door-todoor household surveys to identify beneficiaries. This was the TTRCS’ first deployment of the ODK system for a disaster response, so it required some training with the volunteers to ensure proper data collection. Household assessments took more time than planned as the priority communities were very large and houses were not close to each other. The TTRCS also put emphasis on areas not reached by other relief actors, as it tried to target persons who may not have gotten assistance from the state or did not qualify for assistance from the state, especially if they were “squatters” or had irregular land tenure.
During the assessment phase, the TTRCS Disaster Management Team also deployed multidisciplinary volunteers who provided Psychosocial Support to the affected households. The hygiene promotion and epidemic control campaigns were also launched simultaneously through the distribution of information brochures and face-to-face dialogue with residents on safe disposal of flood damaged items and proper sanitation methods for cleaning and disinfection of homes.
A lot of material used for the epidemic control campaign was previously created within the TTRCS Vector Control Programme, which allowed for faster implementation of the campaign. The TTRCS also utilized social media to share key messages about hygiene and sanitation.
The TTRCS assessed some 576 households in the communities of St. Helena, Sangre Grande, Mafeking and Penal. The TTRCS Executive Committee approved the selection criteria to narrow down the assessment data to the target of 500. 490 families were targeted for a cash-based intervention of TTD$1,700.00 (USD$250.00) unconditional cash grant to allow beneficiary families to purchase items lost in the floods. A total of 471 households received the grant; 19 targeted households who were selected did not collect their grant because they moved out of the affected area and were not able to be contacted.
Post distribution monitoring (PDM) revealed that 45% of the households used the cash mainly for buying food items and 27% used it to purchase appliances, mainly small ones. While the minority utilized it on other uses such as to tend to health needs, purchase clothing, cleaning supplies and pay for minor home repairs. The families who received the cash grant also received a hygiene kit.
The DREF was able to replenish the medical supplies used during the operation of the medical post set up at the La Horquetta South Primary School which addressed the medical needs of some 1200 families from the immediate community of La Horquetta (Greenvale Park) as well as surrounding areas of St. Helena and Sangre Grande. Through the DREF the TTRCS was able to also complete a capacity building project in Protection, Gender and Inclusion (PGI) which would contribute to the effective implementation of these principles for future operations.