Tomas leaves trail of destruction

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, Sunday October 31, 2010 – Hurricane Tomas left a long trail of property damage in Barbados, St Lucia and St Vincent and the Grenadines – tearing off roofs, damaging houses and other buildings, and downing power lines – and even reportedly claimed lives as it stormed through parts of the Eastern Caribbean. It is now continuing on a path that forecasters say could take it near to Jamaica.

Yesterday was the second of consecutive “horrible Saturdays” in Barbados, according to Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, coming a week after his predecessor David Thompson passed away of pancreatic cancer.

Parishes all across the island were affected by Tomas. The high winds blew roofs off homes, forcing people to seek shelter elsewhere; felled trees, making some roads impassable; and caused less sturdy homes to collapse. 

There was widespread disruption of electricity services, beginning late Friday night, and up to this morning some residents said they still had no power. Water was also cut off in some areas.

The storm seemed to have caught the island off guard. There were no usual watches or advisories before residents heard that they were under a tropical storm warning.

By 11 pm, Tomas made its presence felt, pounding the island with heavy rains, and Director of Emergency Management, Judy Thomas, issued an order for the entire island to be shutdown and for all Barbadians to be indoors by 12:30 am.

The all-clear was given at 2:22 pm yesterday after Tomas had passed. This morning the Grantley Adams International Airport, which had been closed, was reopened.

Airports in St Lucia and St Vincent and the Grenadines, where Tomas moved on as a Category 1 hurricane, were also closed.

Unconfirmed reports of deaths 

The hurricane left damage in those islands, similar to what it caused in Barbados, and thousands of people were left without electricity as Tomas raged.

In St Vincent, it was reported that three people were killed but those deaths have not been confirmed. 

The country’s north was hardest hit. Emergency management officials in that island said fierce winds tore roofs from nearly 100 homes and more than 400 people sought emergency shelter. 

Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves, who left a meeting in Barbados on Friday before the storm passed that island, told the Nation newspaper that Tomas was the worst to hit St Vincent as far as he could remember, even though others had been stronger. 

“It’s a big hit. It is one which we can ill afford at any time but particularly at this time,” he told the newspaper, referring to the current economic challenges. “This is an expensive one”.

In addition to damaging residences in St Lucia, Tomas’ winds also ripped roofs off a school, a hospital and a stadium. The hurricane’s rains also caused a landslide that blocked a main highway.

The destruction in St Lucia came as Prime Minister Stephenson King was stranded in Barbados where he had been on an official trip.

“It hurts me to know that I am not around to give courage, strength and guidance at a time when we all must bond together and give support to each other,” he said in a statement.

Creole festival affected by Tomas

Over in Dominica, last night’s events for the World Creole Music Festival had to be abandoned after just an hour and a half, when fierce winds proved to be too much. Today’s schedule is expected to be packed, with performances from the acts that could not perform last night, joining those that had already been scheduled for tonight.

Meantime, regional airline LIAT also cancelled flights throughout the region as Tomas caused weather conditions to deteriorate.

This morning, it said it would make efforts to resume operations throughout its network today . However, LIAT said, there could still be some challenges.

“Passengers are advised that prevailing weather conditions as a result of the passage of Hurricane Tomas, as well as the need to reposition aircraft and crew, mean that there are likely to be delays and disruptions to services particularly in the Windward Islands,” read a statement from the airline, adding that passengers travelling to islands that have been affected by the passage of the hurricane are advised to contact their local airport offices or the LIAT Call Centre to check on the status of their flights.

Tropical storm warnings are still in effect for Dominica, Martinique, St Lucia and St Vincent and the Grenadines, but forecasters say they are likely to be discontinued later today.

Tomas is slowly moving away from the Windward Islands and heavy rains are lingering over much of the Lesser Antilles.

At 8 am, the National Hurricane Centre in Miami said Tomas was a Category 2 hurricane, with maximum sustained winds near 100 miles per hour, and was expected to strengthen today.

It was about 155 miles west of St Lucia and 355 miles south-southeast of San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Tomas, the 12th hurricane of the Altantic Hurricane Season, is forecast to head toward Jamaica.

A previous tropical storm which formed on Friday, Shary, dissipated yesterday after passing well east of Bermuda, much further than expected. 

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