HAD the capital city not seen a change in wind direction on Tuesday, smoke streaming out of the Beetham Landfill could have caused “mass casualties”, Deputy Mayor of Port of Spain, Keron Valentine, said yesterday.
Valentine was among those officials called to an emergency meeting of the National Operations Centre (NOC) at Knowsley Building on Tuesday, where he said it was expressed by some first-responder experts that had Tuesday’s smoke been allowed to settle on the city, hundreds of citizens could have died.
“I think this situation is way more serious that the average citizens thinks it is,” Valentine said in a telephone interview yesterday.
“We were told at that meeting that had the wind not changed direction, we could have had mass casualties in the city,”he said.
The “casualties” could have been caused by the sheer volume of smoke and because the smoke was found to be in severe violation of air pollution rules, though the long-term effects of the toxins in the smoke are also cause for concern.
Smoke inhalation is the primary cause of death for victims of indoor fires and a number of medical websites searched yesterday stated that victims can “die within two to ten minutes” of consistent inhalation.
Port of Spain saw a resurgence of the toxic smoke yesterday, as wind conditions had reversed from Tuesday and brought smoke into the city and environs, where it had previously been pulled out to sea.
The smoke was visible and detectable to the nose yesterday and led to over a dozen schools and numerous businesses being forced to close their doors early.
The volume coming out of the landfill had lessened, however, as the Fire Service has been able to bring over a dozen fires burning at the site since Sunday under control and was left with one large fire that remained smoldering stubbornly.
Valentine said he intends to raise the matter at today Council meeting of the Port of Spain City Corporation, as a long-term solution to the problem must be found.
Talks at NOC on Tuesday yielded a number of suggestions, including the establishment of a “fire lane” at the landfill to accommodate fire service vehicles.
“One of the problems being experienced was that Fire Service vehicles could not access areas closer to the fire,” said Valentine, who also serves as chairman of the Council’s Public Health Committee and Security and Disaster Management Committee.
Attending that meeting were various agencies and also the Port of Spain, San/Juan Laventille and Diego Martin corporations, all of which have been affected by the reach of the smoke.
“We are getting a lot of calls from burgesses all over, complaining that the smoke is aggravating respiratory problems or causing discomfort,” Valentine said.
“We have had complaints from as far as Teteron.”
The landfill was the site of a series of fire late last year as well, when authorities struggled for up to a week to bring the fires under control.