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Cash-strapped regional airline also affected by passage of hurricanes

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, Oct 6, CMC – A senior official of the financially-strapped regional airline, LIAT, says the struggling Antigua-based carrier should be considered also for assistance as the region emerges from the devastation caused by the passage of Hurricanes Irma and Maria through the Lesser Antilles last month.

LIAT’s chief executive officer, Julie-Reifer Jones.

LIAT’s chief executive officer, Julie-Reifer Jones, made the suggestion on the side-lines of the presentation of a US$550,000 cheque by CIBC FirstCaribbean to assist with evacuation flights and other forms of relief for seven storm-battered territories, namely Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, the British Virgin Islands, St Kitts and Nevis, St Martin and Turks and Caicos Islands.

She said LIAT had suffered substantial losses as a result of the passage of the two hurricanes adding “frankly the discussions about relief efforts going forward should include relief efforts for LIAT.”

She said that the loss to the carrier’s network as a result of the recent storms had been estimated at more than four million US dollars and that LIAT  to date, had completed 54 relief flights to affected countries that were mostly “unfunded”.

“We are still in the process of refining these numbers but I would have to say between four to six million US dollars,” she said, adding that “we have been severely impacted by the removal of literally four territories out of the network overnight”.

Prior to the hurricanes, the regional airline had reported that it expected to record an EC$9.2 million (One EC dollar=US$0.37 cents) loss at the end of this year.

Chairman of the airline’s shareholder governments, Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, said LIAT’s  budgeted total revenue for 2016 was EC$318.8 million, with a small net profit of  five million EC dollars reported up to August last year.

However, Gonsalves had also stated at the time that shareholders were considering a request to provide an additional five million EC dollars for the airline, which, once approved, would be divided between Barbados, St Vincent and the Grenadines, and Antigua and Barbuda, who along with Dominica are its four major shareholders.

But Reifer-Jones acknowledged that with the airline’s total bookings now down 24 per cent, a review of LIAT’s operations was necessary in the wake of the hurricanes.

“We are still in the process of doing an assessment of the full impact [of the storms]. But, I can tell you that it is substantial,” she said, adding that “we will have to step back and review how we go forward in terms of air transportation for the region.

“The issue for us, and this is based on our experience with hurricanes over the years, is that the recovery at the market is not immediate.

“So, it’s not just about the hurricanes. What you have to do is to look at the impact covering the next six to nine months,” Reifer-Jones said, while indicating that it had taken Dominica nine months to a year to return to “a normal state” for travel after Tropical Storm Erika struck the island in August 2015.

“So, during that time the amount of flights we had to Dominica were reduced from five to two and over time we increased to the normal levels,” she said while highlighting the need for a robust regional disaster planning system.

“We need to have a mechanism in place,” Reifer-Jones said, noting “these things have a cost on the regional air transportation services”.

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Hurricane releif aid from across the region and the world

Barbados Defence Force and fire service to assist hurricane battered Dominica

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, Sep. 19, CMC –  A team of firemen from the Barbados Fire Service left the island on Tuesday for Dominica to render much needed assistance to the country that was devastated by Hurricane Maria late Monday.

Chief Fire Officer, Errol Maynard, confirmed that four teams were mobilised following an emergency meeting at the Bridgetown Fire Station on Tuesday morning and the teams will be rotated in the island over the next six weeks.

CDEMA He noted that all off duty personnel have beencalled into action to maintain numbers locally.

Maynard said the first team would include a commanding officer and six fire officers who were emergency management technicians and rescue personnel, to provide assistance to the country in those areas.

In addition, a four-man team is expected to be deployed to render assistance in Tortola  in the British Virgin Islands on Wednesday.

The rescue effort was being coordinated through the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA).

Meanwhile, the Barbados Defence Force (BDF) is deploying a contingent to assist the Commonwealth of Dominica in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria

This disclosure has come from the BDF’s Public Relations Officer, Captain Maria Moore, who said humanitarian assistance and disaster relief would be provided to the island.

The BDF contingent is expected to be deployed within the next 12 hours aboard the HMBS Leonard C. Banfield.

Captain Moore added that Barbadians could also provide support to Dominicans by donating bottle water, medical/first aid supplies, canned foods, baby items and general hygiene products to the BDF at St. Ann’s Fort, Garrison, St. Michael, or the Barbados Coast Guard .

She said  the items will be taken when the Coast Guard vessel sets sail with BDF and Barbados Fire Service contingents.

As part of the BDF’s mandate, support is provided to the Regional Security System, Member States, CDEMA, CARICOM and the wider region.

Meanwhile, CDEMA’s Executive Director, Ronald Jackson on Tuesday said  Barbados will be the hub for the Dominica disaster response.

During a media briefing he disclosed that  members of the Rapid Assessment team, search and rescue personnel and a communications kit will depart for Dominica on Tuesday evening along with a CDEMA team .

He added that  units will also  be deployed from St Lucia and St Vincent and the Grenadines.

It is expected that the Coast Guard vessel will arrive by 6 a.m. Wednesday morning and it will also be taking supplies from Barbados to Dominica, which, Jackson said, had depleted its own reserves while assisting sister islands affected by Hurricane Irma earlier this month.

“Dominica, through their own solidarity with some of the affected states, would have deployed a lot of their emergency relief items to the British Virgin Islands so they are currently without adequate relief supplies,” he explained, saying that Dominica has an immediate need for supplies to begin its national response to the disaster.

Jackson said based on the geography of Dominica, the rescue and relief operations will be “extremely complex”.

He said while communication on what is happening on the ground is still very sketchy, disaster officials are anticipating a series of landslides and rockfalls all over Dominica which, he said, will make access to very difficult via road or foot.

CDEMA was, however, able to confirm, through amateur radio contact with Dominica in the early afternoon, severe damage to Marigot on the northeastern side of island. .

According to Jackson, the entire population of Dominica, some 69 – 70,000 people, would face direct or indirect impacts from the hurricane, in terms of shelter, access or relief distribution.

Late Monday  Dominica’s  Prime Minister, Roosevelt Skerrit, who had earlier reported that he had to be “rescued’ from his own residence,  said in a Whatsapp message relayed by Senior Counsel Anthony Astaphan that the world must know of the devastation to the island.

Skerrit, who had earlier reported that he had to be “rescued’ from his own residence,  said in a Whatsapp message relayed by Senior Counsel Anthony Astaphan that the world must know of the devastation to the island.

World Council of Credit Unions activates Caribbean Relief Fund


BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, Sep. 20, CMC – The World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU) has activated a Caribbean Relief Fund to support credit unions that have been affected by Hurricane Irma that recently devastated sections of the Caribbean .

World Council of Credit UnionsAccording to the WOCCU, there are more than 10,000 active credit union members in Anguilla, Barbuda, Tortoal and St. Kitts Nevis – countries that felt the wrath of Irma, the most powerful Atlantic hurricane in recorded history.

Unofficial estimates from the Caribbean Confederation of Credit Unions, a member of the World Council, indicate that approximately US$1.9 billion may be required for reconstruction in the affected countries.

“It is through these difficult times that out global community comes together to show its strength and reach beyond borders to help those in need,” said Brian Branch, the president and chief executive to WOCCU.

The WOCCU is raising funds through the Worldwide  Foundation of Credit Unions, its official gift receiving and grant making arm.

In addition to the Caribbean region, the foundation is raising funds to provide relief for those impacted by storms in the United States.

Over the past four years, the foundation has devlivered approximately US$1 million in aid to credit union organisations affected by natural disasters in the Philippines, Nepal, Ecuador, Malawi and Columbia.

Caribbean mobilizes to help Dominica

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, Sep. 20, CMC – Member states within the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) are preparing to offer assistance to Dominica following the passage of Hurricane Maria late Monday.

According CARICOM Chairman, Grenada’s Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell of Grenada, the situation is a challenging one.

Dominica “It is clear that we have a tremendous challenge on our hands, in the Caribbean region as a whole,” said Mitchell who was responding to the effects of Hurricane Maria in Dominica, said he spoke to his colleague Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit late Monday, during the passage of the hurricane.

Mitchell who was speaking to journalists on Wednesday pleaded with Grenadians to reach out to Dominicans “we, in Grenada must recognize that we have a tremendous responsibility to help out our brothers and sisters in Dominica and all other affected countries. This is about us, the region.”

Mitchell recently returned from the Turks and Caicos and several Islands in the Bahamas that were affected by Hurricane Irma last week.

And in St. Lucia following a meeting of the Cabinet of Ministers, acting Prime Minister Lenard Montoute said plans were already underway to make St Lucia an operational base for the relief effort to Dominica.

“Right now our thoughts are with Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit and the people of Dominica. Preliminary information is that we have widespread devastation in Dominica,” said Minister Montoute. “From our understanding they are facing a very critical situation and our prayers are with them, as our sister and neighbour. We have to respond and do what we can to assist our brothers and sisters in Dominica.”

He also said that communication has been made with the French and Venezuelan authorities in terms of assistance.

“St Lucia will be used as the base for relief efforts into Dominica because, as you can well appreciate, the airports are not operational; neither are the sea ports. Reconnaissance flights will have to be made to ascertain the actual situation on the ground and for immediate preparation to be made for the landing of helicopters and other aircrafts. We are looking at what assistance we can give immediately and that may entail medical assistance and sending medical personnel and people with expertise in search and rescue. We are hoping that by this evening an assessment of the situation would have been made and we can get a better appreciation of the kind of assistance that is immediately required,” Mitchell said.

With St Lucia being used as an operational base for the humanitarian effort, the Government has agreed in conjunction with the St Lucia Air and Sea Port Authority to waive fees and facilitate the use of warehouse facilities for receipt and distribution.

Meanwhile, the political leader of the  main opposition St. Lucia Labour Party Philip J. Pierre says the party has initiated a “help Dominica” drive and the party has opened its headquarters in order to receive donations.

Seven people have so far been confirmed dead as a result of Hurricane Maria’s direct hit on Dominica on Monday night., but there are fears that death toll could rise as officials get into communities that have not yet been reached.

Much of the island’s housing stock were either damaged or destroyed by Maria’s 160 mile-per-hour winds, according to Hartley Henry, principal advisor to Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit.

St Lucia is coordinating with the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) Commission on the response efforts.

British Government helping Guyana to distribute hurricane supplies

GEOGETOWN, Guyana, Sep. 21, CMC  – The British Government is working with Guyana in an effort to get supplies to countries in the region that have been devastated by hurricanes.

On Thursday, Minister of State Joe Harmon said the British Government through the local High Commission has indicated that it will make a C-130 military aircraft available to take supplies from Guyana to Antigua and Barbuda.

C-130 HerculesHarmon told reporters that at least 10 containers will be dispatched initially with supplies .

He said the supplies will be taken to Antigua  from where they will be distributed by the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA).

According to Harmon, the government has also committed to sending medical and other emergency personnel to the islands.

He added that prior to Britain’s help, the private sector was considering hiring a 300 tonne capacity vessel to take the supplies.

GAICO, a privately-owned company, has already paid US$12,000 to transport one container of supplies to Antigua.

The supplies will be distributed to St Maarten, Barbuda, the British Virgin Islands, Anguilla and Dominica that were all affected by Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

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Prime Minister of Dominica declares state of emergency, BVI gives all clear

This was Wednesday

ROSEAU, Dominica, Sep. 20, CMC  – A state of emergency has been declared in Dominica following the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria.

In a statement on Wednesday,  Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit said the Commonwealth of Dominica is still isolated with no means of communications and and transportation connections to the neghbouring islands.

2017-09-20-PHOTO-00000148Skerrit said the French government is sending a helicopter to the devasted  country to provide assistance and facilitate the evaluation of the situation .

The Prime Minister said with recovery now underway he has declared a state of emergency and a curfew from 4pm to 8pm daily.

In the aftermath of the hurricane, seven persons have been confirmed dead .

“It’s difficult to determine the level of fatalities but so far seven are confirmed, as a direct result of the hurricane. That figure, the Prime Minister fears, will rise as he wades his way into the rural communities today – Wednesday,” said Hartley Henry , the Prime Minister’s principal advisor.

On Tuesday the executive director of the Barbados baed Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA)  Ronald Jackson said that based on historical knowledge of Dominica and the fact that the eye of storm swept across the island from southeast to northwest, there would be “billions of dollars” in damage, with virtually every one of the estimated 70,000 population directly or indirectly impacted.

Meanwhile Governor gives all clear to essential and emergency workers

TORTOLA, British Virgin Islands, Sep. 20, CMC – Governor of the British Virgin Islands, Augustus Jaspert on Wednesday gave an all-clear signal for essential and emergency workers to resume operations following the close passage of Hurricane Maria .

However, he urged everyone else to stay indoors, adding that debris and damage caused by Maria pose some amount of risk to residents.

PROD-DESTRUCTION-IN-BRITISH-VIRGIN-ISLANDS“The Premier and I, in consultation with the Director of The National Emergency Operations Centre (NEOC) are satisfied that the immediate serious threat posed by Hurricane Maria to the territory is over.”

“Therefore, I am now giving the all-clear to emergency and essential workers only to help conduct the rapid assessment and to ensure that we are able to clear roadways. This means that only critical agencies should be on the roads – all other persons must still stay off the roads. There are still risks from debris and damage from Maria,” he said.

The Governor added that although Maria continues to move away from the BVI, squalls, rain and high surf will continue to affect the territory throughout the day until the hurricane moves away fully.

According to Jaspert, following assessment of the damage caused by Maria, the Government will re-establish plans to continue with the recovery efforts.

“I urge all persons of the BVI, to please adhere to the instructions being given and to ensure full cooperation. The curfew remains in place for all people apart from emergency responders. Please continue to remain indoors and allow us adequate time to complete the assessments and initiate the necessary immediate response. I will advise you later in the day when the public all-clear is given,” he said.

He offered sympathies to Dominica and the US Virgin Islands which were badly affected by Hurricane Maria and noted that he fully supports the call by the Governor of Puerto Rico to ensure individuals are fully prepared for the approaching Hurricane.

Meanwhile, Hurricane Maria  knocked out power to the entire island of Puerto Rico.

Head of the Diaster Management Agency, Abner Gómez said the hurricane had damaged “everything in its path”.

Maria weakened to a category three storm with winds of 115 mph (185km/h) as it moved across the island.

The National Hurricane Centre at 2:00 pm (local time) said Maria had moved offshore the northwestern coast of Puerto Rico and was moving toward the northwest near 12 miles per hour.

It said the center will then pass offshore of the northeastern coast of the Dominican Republic on Wednesday night  and Thursday and then move near the Turks and Caicos Islands and southeastern Bahamas Thursday night and Friday.

Little change in strength is forecast during the next 48 hours, and Maria is expected to remain a dangerous major hurricane through Friday.

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Puerto Rico - Hurricane Maria

US ‘stands in solidarity’ with Dominica, Caribbean on ravages of Hurricane Irma

WASHINGTON, Sep. 21, CMC – The United States on Wednesday said that it “stands in solidarity with the people of Dominica and all those across the Caribbean region” affected by Hurricane Maria.

Puerto Rico - Hurricane Maria“The United States stands ready to work with you and our international partners to provide immediate disaster relief,” said US Department of States spokesperson Heather Nauert in a statement.

“We are in the process of coordinating the best possible package of assistance,” she added. “The recent natural disasters underscore our interconnectedness and the importance of strong partnership with the Caribbean.”

Nauert said the Department of State has an ongoing Task Force working to determine the extent of the damages, to coordinate evacuation efforts, and to provide assistance to US citizens in the affected countries.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of the Caribbean region,” she said.

Hurricane Maria,  the most powerful storm to make a direct hit on Puerto Rico in almost a century, ravaged the island on Wednesday, knocking out all electricity, deluging towns with flashfloods and mudslides and compounding the already considerable pain of residents.

DominicaLess than two weeks ago, another powerful storm –  Hurricane Irma  dealt the island “a glancing blow,” killing at least three people and leaving nearly 70 percent of households without power.

Hurricane Maria, which made landfall on Puerto Rico at 6 a.m (local time) on Wednesday, as a Category 4 hurricane, took out the island’s entire power grid, and only added to the woes of a commonwealth that has been groaning under the weight of an extended debt and bankruptcy crisis.

Hurricane Maria also slammed into Dominica late Tuesday.

The storm has devastated infrastructure and led to seven deaths.

NY sends police, fire fighters to help Caribbean with Hurricane Maria recovery


NEW YORK – New York City will be helping the victims of Hurricane Maria across the Caribbean by sending 27 members of the New York Police Department (NYPD) and the Fire Department of New York  (FDNY) to assist in the recovery efforts.

fdny-harvey-rescueAccording to Mayor Bill de Blasio , 27 members of the New York Police Department (NYPD) and the Fire Department of New York (FDNY) left for  Puerto Rico and elsewhere in the region assist in the recovery efforts.

The members of the NYPD and FDNY, including medics and disaster relief professionals make up the city’s Urban Search and Rescue team.

There are 28 Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA) Urban Search and Rescue teams strategically located throughout the United States, which can also be deployed to the region within six hours of activation.

Meantime,  Prime Minister Gaston Browne of Antigua and Barbuda is expected to focus the world’s attention on climate change and its effects on the Caribbean when he addresses the United Nations General Assembly Thursday evening.

Before departing Antigua on Wednesday, Browne said his primary objective is to speak about the devastation of the sister isle of Barbuda, which was ravaged by Hurricane Irma and to rally the support of the international community for the island.

“I will also be speaking to the issue of Climate Change,” Browne said. “We recognize that in some quarters they are arguing against the issue of climate change.

“We are the ones who are suffering the consequences of climate change here in the Caribbean,” he added. “I want to ensure that I am one of the major advocates on the issue of climate change.”

Browne said his intention is to work with individuals, such as former US Vice President Al Gore and others, to become “more integrally involved” in advancing the arguments in favor of climate change,” according to an Antigua and Barbuda government statement.

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Dr. Ralph Gonsalves

Jamaica and St. Vincent aiding stricken islands and British Virgin Islands

Storm forces barge of hurricane relief supply to return to St. Vincent

KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent, Sept. 19, CMC — Rough seas and other unfavorable marine conditions on the weekend forced the return to Kingstown of an 1,800-tonne barge laden with relief supplies bound for storm-ravaged British Virgin Islands (BVI).
Dr. Ralph Gonsalves
Dr. Ralph Gonsalves

The supplies were donated by the government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, businesses and individuals and had been dispatched to the British overseas territory, which is at risk of being hit by another hurricane, even as it struggles to respond to the devastating blow dealt by category 5 Hurricane Irma on Sept. 6.

Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves told a press conference in Kingstown on Monday that the vessel had reached Dominica when the captain decided to sail south to avoid Hurricane Maria.

The government had spent over EC$400,000 to help in the effort, with the barge carrying corporate and individual donations for persons in the BVI, where 10 per cent of the 30,000 residents are Vincentians.

The contribution of the government included some 2,500 gallons of fuel for the vessel.

“We will have to pay more now because we will have to refuel,” Gonsalves said.

He said that the donations from St. Vincent was able to fill 80 per cent of the barge, which set sail from Port Kingstown around midnight Friday, and was scheduled to arrive in Tortola 48 hours later.

Gonsalves, who has ministerial responsibilities for disaster management, said that when he returned to Kingstown from Venezuela around midday Sunday, the National Emergency Management Organisation (NEMO) in Kingstown told him that the barge was on the western side of Dominica.

He asked NEMO to ask the captain if they could go south to St. Lucia because of the predicted path of the storm.

“But I think that even on the western side there’d be problems, so they clearly took a decision to come further south, so they are here. They are out here, they have come back into our waters,” he said of the vessel, which is docked in Port Kingstown.

“This is just a fact of life. We have to wait until Maria passes in order to be able to send the food and water,” Gonsalves said. “It is a sad thing that they are delayed.”

He noted that the region has been dealt a heavy blow by tropical cyclone this Atlantic Hurricane Season, which ends, officially, on November 30.

“The season is still active. We hope and pray that we would be spared but we don’t know what will happen. We just have to be prepared and we have to be active in that preparation,” Gonsalves said.

He told the media that the relevant state agencies are working in a coordinated fashion and he and the director of NEMO, Michelle Forbes, are in contact with each other all the time.

“And I am keeping colleagues informed and I am having reports. I have a file here with reports of one kind or another with this matter. It’s taking up a fair amount of time on a daily basis and on a nightly basis too for us to get things together,” the prime minister said.

Jamaica stands ready to assist island’s impacted by hurricanes

KINGSTON, Jamaica, Sep. 19, CMC  – Jamaica’s Prime Minister Andrew Holness says his administration will provide whatever assistance it can by countries in the Eastern Caribbean that have been battered by hurricanes.

holnessss“I am in touch with the Prime Ministers from the Eastern Caribbean, Our prayers are with them as they seek to recover from these tragedies. Jamaica stands with them in their time of need,” said Holness on Tuesday.

Late Monday Hurricane Maria, a powerful Category five storm, battered Dominican, uprooting trees and ripping off roofs.

Holness said that while he has had no formal communication the Prime Minister of Dominica, Roosevelt Skerrit, he had seen posts made on social media.

Last week, Hurricane Irma, also a Category five system devastated several islands, including Barbuda, St. Maarten and the British Virgin Islands.

“Jamaica stands ready to assist our Caribbean neighbours. We are calling on the private sector to also assist where possible,” Holness said.

He added that Jamaica has provided airlift for Jamaicans from St Maarten and the British Virgin Islands.

He also urged Jamaicans to continue to be prepared as the 2017 Atlantic Hurricane season remains active.

The hurricane season officially ends on November 30.

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LIAT commences relief flights to St Maarten and BVI


ST. JOHN’S, Antigua, Sep. 14, CMC  – Regional airline, LIAT on Thursday started limited flight operations into St. Marteen and Tortola in the British Virgin Islands, both of which were  severely affected by the passage of Hurricane Irma.

LIAT ATRThe Princess Juliana International Airport in St. Maarten and the Terrance B. Lettsome International Airport in Tortola suffered extensive damage and have been  closed to commercial operations.

With the relief flights, LIAT is only transporting passengers out of these destinations.

“We will not carry any commercial passengers into these destinations. This is in accordance with the conditions established by the authorities in St. Maarten and the BVI that prohibits the entry of commercial passengers,” the airline noted.

Meanwhile,  LIAT will continue to assist the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) in moving personnel and relief supplies into the affected area.

Passengers in the affected destinations are being urged to contact LIAT’s Reservations Department for more information on the flight schedule.


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keith rowley

Trinidad and Tobago PM Rowely offers to wave immigration regulation for Dominicans

PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, Sep. 22 CMC – Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley says his administration will wave the immigration requirements for residents of the hurricane ravaged island of Dominica for a period of six months as the CARICOM member state rebuilds.

keith rowleyRowley made the announcement on Thursday during a post cabinet press briefing.

He also said places could be made in schools across the twin island republic for Dominican children to continue their education.

“In situations like these, whatever we have available to us, we the people have always been generous are and willing to share…..for the next six months, TT will open our doors, our homes, our pots and I daresay out schools to the people of the Commonwealth of Dominica.”

He said those Dominicans taking up the offer must be able to clearly identify friends or family who will be able to accommodate them.

The Prime minister arrangements will be made for  any citizen who has accommodation and is willing to help provide shelter .

He stressed that Dominicans who choose to come to the country, will not be classified as refugees.

“A house is never too small for a family and I think that is what’s happening here.

Rowley said while he has not been able to speak directly with Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit of Dominica, he has been in touch with the secretariat of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).

The Prime Minister added that the twin island republic has already provided a helicopter and coast guard vowel to assist in relief efforts in Dominica, however he said the country is not in a position to contribute financially.

Concerning education, Education Minsiter Anthony Garcia said spaces will be made available to students who were displaced in Dominica.

“When Grenada was hit by Ivan, Trinidad and Tobago Government made available school spaces to a number of students. It is something I have experienced because at that time I was a principle of a secondary school.“Spaces would be made available however it must be done in consultation of the Ministry of National Security which has responsibility for the Immigration Department so we want to make sure everything is done properly. There are certain parameters that we must work within,” he said.

Hurricane Maria slammed into Dominica earlier this week , killing at least 15 people.

Skerrit, in an interview with ABS television in neighbouring Antigua and Barbuda on Thursday issued an urgent appeal, saying Dominica needs all the help it can get.

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Airport Authority – no evidence of workers stealing from travellers

KINGSTOWN,  St. Vincent, Jul. 27, CMC –  The five-month old Argyle International Airport (AIA) authority says its investigation so far has not found any evidence of its workers stealing items from travellers’ bags, as several persons have claimed.

Glender Francois, manager of Customer Service and Marketing/Public Relations at AIA told the media  that between May 15 and July 20, 2017, the airport, which began operating on February 14, received 52 documented complaints about items missing from bags.

AIAOf these claims, 22 have been investigated, while investigations into 30 of them are pending, because of insufficient information, no response from persons to gain more information or are still under investigation.

Speaking during a media tour of the airport, Hadley Bourne, chief executive officer of AIA, said that there has been no evidence of airport staff stealing items from passengers’ bags.

“To date, no. I never say never, but what I always say so far to date, because we may find some that are substantiated, but so far to date, none,” Bourne said in response to a question.

He, however, said there is no way for the members of the public or passengers to independently verify the results of the investigations without compromising security at the airport.

“I would want that we are trusted in that regard. The investigation is not done at a level of rank and file. The investigation within the authority is done at a very high level and I would assure you that those persons tasked with carrying out these investigations are of high moral and equitable standing.”

He admitted that it is a case of the AIA investigating the AIA — like police investigating police — and the public takes their word for it.

“Well you may look at it that way but it is difficult to have an independent investigation unless an additional regulator who could have that access to the inside information to provide the investigating protocols per se.”

Bourne, however, said he was not disputing that theft at airports by airport staff is a reality.

“We compile a report, we do certain things when we compile a report. We try to make it as comprehensive as possible, we take snaps from the CCTV, down to the minutes, second, etc. and we try to do a comprehensive report.”

He said it might be difficult for the airport to accommodate an individual who wants to verify the airport’s conclusions after an investigation.

“For the individual, it may be difficult, a reputable third party institution associated with that type of activity may be possible, but trust me on this one; take our word for it.

“Yes, you may say it is the police investigating the police but even if you have a complaint against the police, the police still investigate the police. But you have a different level of police that you give a higher authority or holding to investigate the police.”

He said that security personnel at the airport took personal offence at the claims that they are stealing items from passengers’ checked luggage.

“… a lot of security personnel took the reports kind of seriously and personally. Most of them even wanted to go and respond on Facebook but we said that’s not necessarily the right means or the way to go about it.

“Because they are Vincentians and like us, they took it personally. The various comments that were heard, they were being called robbers and thieves, but they are Vincentians and to them, they felt extremely hurt and that being said, we still have, we are being inundated daily with applications for the security services. And I am not saying just for security.”

The chief executive said that AIA’s no-tolerance for delinquency at the airport applies across the board.

“An airport is a service provider and any member of staff who you would entrust in confidence, etc. to provide a service, and pilfering or stealing would be part of breaking that trust, will be dealt with severely,” he said.


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Taiwan announces visa-free entry for allies in Caribbean

TAIPEI, Jul. 12, CMC – The Government of Taiwan on Wednesday announced visa-free entry for nationals of its diplomatic allies in the Caribbean, with immediate effect.

visa-freeAccording Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, this is being done to “demonstrate the closeness between Taiwan and its allies in the Caribbean “ and “the principles of mutual benefit and reciprocity”.

With this development, nationals of Belize, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, St Kitts Nevis, St Lucia, and St Vincent and the Grenadines will be given visa-exempt stays of up to 30 days.

Meanwhile, nationals of El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, and Nicaragua will be granted visa-free stays of up to 90 days.

The Foreign Affairs Ministry in its statement said It is hoped that the change “will lead to an increase in tourism, business, trade and cultural exchanges at multiple levels.”

The announcement was made  during Paraguayan President Horacio Cartes’s state visit to Taiwan, was meant to highlight the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Republic of China (Taiwan) and the Republic of Paraguay and to commemorate the two countries’ friendship.

Paraguay first granted Taiwanese nationals 90-day landing visas on November 20, 2012, while the 10 other allies already grant visa-free entry to Taiwanese nationals.

All 11 allies were included in Taiwan’s e-visa program on Jan. 12 last year, the ministry said.

Cartes’ visit comes after Panama cut formal ties with Taiwan and established diplomatic relations with China on June 13, leaving Taipei with only 20 diplomatic allies.

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Huge fire engulfs west London Grenfell Tower block

Families try to find one another as a number of fatalities is confirmed and firefighters try to rescue those who remain trapped.

Full story: Huge fire started nearly 12 hours or so ago – engulfs Grenfell Tower block – Sky story
By Sunita Patel-Carstairs and Aubrey Allegretti, News Reporters

At least six people have been killed – and others remain trapped – in a large fire on a west London estate being battled by more than 200 firefighters and 40 fire engines.

Hundreds of residents in the 24-storey Grenfell Tower have been evacuated from their flats in the burning building, and at least 70 people have been taken to five hospitals in the capital for treatment.

Witnesses described hearing screams, watching people jump out of the high-rise block and a baby being dropped out of a window and caught on the street below.

Fire at a tower block in Latimer Road
Image: Debris fell from the tower as it was engulfed by a huge inferno

Others told of seeing people shouting and waving from the windows for help, and residents shining torches from within as the inferno erupted in the dead of night.

Mahad, who escaped the fire-ravaged block, said the blaze began when his neighbour’s fridge exploded.

He told Sky News: “There was no alarm, there was no bell, there was no sense of urgency.

“My neighbour is the one who knocked on our door. He said it as his house where the explosion happened. He said his fridge had exploded.”

A structural engineer assessed the tower’s stability but judged the building was not in danger of collapsing.

Met Police Commander Stuart Cundy said: “I can confirm six fatalities at this time but this figure is likely to rise during what will be a complex recovery operation over a number of days.”

:: LIVE: Fire service chief confirms fatalities

Footage on social media showed the tower block engulfed in fire, with huge flames stretching over several floors.

The fire brigade said the fire had spread throughout the entire building, now covered in plumes of smoke with visible pockets of fire within the charred structure.

Mini explosions could be heard as the blaze shattered windows in the tower, while debris and ash fell to the ground.

London Fire Commissioner Dany Cotton described it as an “unprecedented incident”, something she had not seen in her 29 years of service.

The cause of the blaze is not yet known, but is being investigated, she added.

Firefighters have managed to reach the 20th floor as they continue searching for remaining survivors.

Any residents unaccounted for who escaped are being urged to contact the emergency services to reassure concerned loves ones.

Reporting from the scene in the immediate aftermath of the blaze, Sky News producer Dan Cairns said residents had been told that if they received calls for help from people inside, to tell them they needed to try and “self-evacuate”.

He said they had been told “to put a cloth over their mouths and try to get out by themselves”.

Actor and writer Tim Downie, who lives around 600 metres from the scene, said he feared the block could collapse.

He said: “It’s horrendous. The whole building is engulfed in flames. It’s gone. It’s just a matter of time before this building collapses. It’s the most terrifying thing I’ve ever seen.

“People have been bringing water, clothes, anything they’ve got to help, out to the cordon. I have seen people coming out in their bedclothes – it’s just very distressing.”

Witness Samira Lamrani said she saw a woman try to save a baby by dropping it from a window “on the ninth or 10th floor”.

She said: “The windows were slightly ajar, a woman was gesturing that she was about to throw her baby and if somebody could catch her baby.

“Somebody did, a gentleman ran forward and managed to grab the baby.”

London Ambulance said it had sent a “number of resources” to the scene, including its Hazardous Area Response Team, after the fire was first reported at 12.54am.

It also confirmed 20 people are currently in critical care.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who is visiting the site, said “a lot of people” were unaccounted for and that of the 120 flats in Grenfell Tower, many had four-bedrooms.

He added that questions needed to be answered in relation to the blaze.

Prime Minister Theresa May said she was “deeply saddened” by the “tragic loss of life” and has called a cross-party meeting.

Joanna O’Connor, a local resident, told Sky News: “At about 2am I was woken up by screaming, sirens and helicopters. We came outside and were confronted with the building that was completely engulfed in flames.

“It was a real shock and there were hundreds of people lining the streets, we could still hear screaming from the building and people were milling around in shock, crying.

“One of our neighbours, her sister, husband and children were in the building, it was their neighbours’ flat that caught fire. So it’s very close to us, we’ve got neighbours whose families are in that building.”

Celeste Thomas lives across the road from the tower and said residents and families were “trying to find each other” following the evacuation.

She said: “Police have moved everyone back out of direct sight but I can hear cracking and debris falling.”

The tower block – which was refurbished internally and externally last year – is situated on the Lancaster West Estate, between Latimer Road Underground station and Westfield’s White City shopping centre.

Transport for London said there was no service between Hammersmith and Edgware Road on the Circle and Hammersmith and City lines, while the police said the A40 was closed in both directions, owing to the fire.

Nick Paget-Brown, leader of Kensington and Chelsea Council, said several hundred people will have been in the tower when the fire broke out.

He said emergency centres have been set up for evacuated residents, and that the council is “providing as much support as we can”.

“Emergency services have set up a big cordon around the area, it’s quite hard to get accurate information but the council will be doing all it can.”

Grenfell Action Group said its warnings about safety fell on “deaf ears”.

In its blog post dated from November 2016, the group warned “only a catastrophic event” would expose the issues residents had with the building – including its one entry and exit and concerns about evacuation procedures.

Labour MP Jim Fitzpatrick, chairman of the all-party Parliamentary Fire Safety and Rescue Group, said the Government has resisted calls to install sprinkler systems in high-rise blocks in the wake of the 2009 Lakanal House tragedy.

Mr Fitzpatrick, who was a firefighter for 20 years, added: “There’s obviously a huge number of questions going to have to be asked about what happened.

“It’s a bit early to start pointing fingers, I would have thought.”

The Archbishop of Canterbury has urged the public to donate clothes, food and toiletries at St Clements Church for families displaced by the fire.

:: Anyone concerned for loved ones can call an emergency hotline on 0800 0961 233.

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