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ODPM: Evacuation plan in place

A phased evacuation plan would have been used this week had the lives of citizens in Port of Spain been threatened by smoke from the Beetham landfill, Office of Disaster Preparedness and Management (ODPM) chief executive officer, Dr. Steve Ramroop, said yesterday.

Ramroop said the State agencies handling the situation since it began on Sunday would have been monitoring wind activity in the city and would have been alerted to any potentially life-threatening situations.

While the winds were unfavourable for a few days this week and bought smoke into the city, Ramroop said changes in wind direction would have varied by only a few degrees and the relevant agencies would have been able to assess the situation.

“We did discuss the possibility of evacuation at a meeting of the National Operations Centre (NOC),” Ramroop said.

“If we had to, there is a phased plan that would be initiated.”

The NOC is  a central ‘war room’ that brings together State agencies such as the ODPM and the Environmental Management Authority (EMA), along with first-responders the Fire Service, Regiment and Police Service and also the municipal corporations.

Ramroop said all these  bodies would have come together to initiate the plan, which would have included guiding citizens towards the Queens’ Park Savannah, where shuttles from the Public Transport Service Corporation (PTSC) would have removed them from the city to a safe area or to their homes.

The Police, Fire and Regiment services would have also worked to rescue the trapped or vulnerable and to guide citizens to their vehicles and out of the city.

Other citizens would have been asked to stay out of Port of Spain, he said.

Ramroop said the cooperation between agencies and the efficiency of the NOC in this situation, which has existed since the fires started at the Beetham landfill last Sunday, has been remarkable.

“I think the country should be proud of the agencies like Swmcol, the EMA, the Fire Service and so on,” Ramroop said in a telephone interview yesterday.

“Yes, there is always room for improvement and it is a work in progress but, by and large, this situation has been handled very well. They came together very quickly and there has been a marked improvement in coordination.”

In the meantime, however, while the Fire Service works to extinguish the last of what was said to have been a dozen fires at the landfill, Ramroop has suggested that those living in the city who are affected by lingering smoke might want to think about moving temporarily.

Ramroop said anyone with friends and relatives outside the city who is experiencing health problems as a result of the smoke should seek shelter with them until the smoke clears. 

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