Students of St. Margaret’s Primary taking part in the simulation exercise in St. Margaret’s Village, St. John. (C.Pitt/BGIS)

Barbados’ emergency services, the St. John District Emergency Organisation (DEO) and the Community Disaster Response Team for the parish, were pressed into action yesterday as the country braced for the possible impact of a tsunami.?? It was all part of a one-day simulation exercise.

Communities along Zores Land, Martin’s Bay and St. Margaret’s Village were evacuated as part of the drill to test the island’s communication systems, process and identify response and recovery procedures as part of the Caribe Wave 2013 regional exercise.

Among those evacuated were students and teachers of the St. Margaret’s Primary School after receiving a call from the Ministry of Education about the impending danger. The school was cleared three minutes after the alarm was sounded and students and teachers retreated to higher ground away from the vulnerable area.

Principal of the school, Ordene Foster, described the experience as a learning one, and noted that the evacuation exercise went well. "It gave us the opportunity to see what is likely to happen in a real tsunami," she said.

She added that the students were trained to tell the difference between the ring of the regular school bell, as opposed to the one sounded in the event of an emergency that requires evacuation.

Ms. Foster said they were 122 students and 10 teachers at the school. However, a head count at the safe zone revealed that three students and one teacher were "missing". They were later "rescued" by members of the emergency response team and taken to safety.

In the wider community, police and fire officials did not hesitate to warn members of the at risk communities of the tsunami’s approach using sirens and bull horns, while members of the St. John DEO and CDRT knocked on doors to alert residents. A 70 year-old woman was "rescued" from her home and taken to higher ground as a part of the exercise.

However, there were mixed reactions among the wider community with some speaking out against efforts to have them evacuate, while others refused to leave.

Speaking from the St. John DEO’s Emergency Response Centre at the St. John Anglican Church, Chairman John Haynes, explained that the centre was always in a state of readiness. "We are set up for any emergency," he said, noting there were a number of people in the field to assist with yesterday’s evacuation.

The exercise was coordinated by the Technical Standing Committee on Coastal Hazards, and this is the second time Barbados participated.


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