A Guyanese Needs Assessment Team yesterday met with the Guyanese community living on the hurricane-ravaged island of St Maarten, where it was told that basic food items are among the immediate needs.
The visit by the Guyanese delegation is part of government’s effort to coordinate relief for Guyanese nationals affected by Hurricane Irma.
Minister of Citizenship Winston Felix did not accompany members of the team as was expected and this newspaper was unable to ascertain the reason for his absence.
Sunday Stabroek made several attempts during yesterday to reach the minister but was unsuccessful. However, this newspaper has since learnt that he will join the team today in Tortola in the British Virgin Islands, where a similar mission will be undertaken.
According to a statement released last night by the Department of Public Information (DPI), the team, which left Guyana last Friday, comprises Preparedness and Response Manager of the Civil Defence Commission (CDC) Major Sean Welcome, Ministry of Foreign Affairs official Charlene Phoenix, Guyana Honorary Consul to Antigua and Barbuda Robert Reis, Guyana Honorary Consul to St Maarten Cleveland Beresford, Principal Foreign Service Officer Michael Brotherson and Michelle Davis from the Immigration Department.
The statement said that from the time of their arrival, the officials met with the members of the Guyana Association in St Maarten, where an estimated 7,000 Guyanese nationals reside. The team was warmly received despite the difficult circumstances, the statement added.
It was explained that the Category-5 hurricane caused severe damage to most of the island and the rebuilding process has commenced. Schools, it was stated, are expected to be reopened on October 2, while commercial flights are set to become operational on October 1. Military support is being offered by both the Dutch and French Governments.
According to DPI, communication with relatives in Guyana has proven challenging for Guyanese nationals on the island, which has no internet connectivity and limited telephone service. Additionally, only one of the sixteen radio stations there is presently functioning.
It was stated that despite the roofs of houses having been blown off, persons have managed to secure accommodation in their homes with the use of tarpaulins. Schools are also being used as shelters.
“The Guyanese Association officials shared with the Needs Assessment Team that they need help with basic food items, water and tarpaulins, these being their more immediate needs,” the statement said.
It added that according to Beresford, the sale of fuel has resumed, resulting in the “normal use of vehicles” although 65% of the vehicles on the island are said to be damaged.
The team, according to DPI, also learnt that the main focus for the islanders is to rebuild rather than to evacuate and this is currently in progress.
Government last week announced that Felix was heading the assessment team to the two islands to conduct an initial assessment of the needs of Guyanese nationals and subsequently report to the Ministerial Task Force on the disaster, which was appointed by President David Granger to coordinate Guyana’s efforts.
Many Guyanese here and abroad have been trying to contact relatives in these hard-hit islands but have not had much success.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in collaboration with the CDC has since established a hotline for Guyanese who are seeking information about their loved ones residing on the two island states.
Persons who have not yet heard from their relatives in any of the affected countries are invited to make enquiries via the hotline numbers: 226 1027, 226 1114, 226 1117, 600 7500 or 623 1700.