Pensive faces of Petite Savanne residents on a boat as they leave their village
Pensive faces of Petite Savanne residents on a boat as they leave their village

Government will build new homes in a completely different area for residents of Petite Savanne, the community in the southeast of the island that was worst affected by Tropical Storm Erika's destructive rains last month.

Petite Savanne was one of nine communities designated special disaster areas after the storm, and residents had to be evacuated via sea, after flooding and landslides buried houses and made the area unstable.

Residents of another disaster area, Dubique, will also be given homes at a new site.

Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit, speaking at a media briefing last week, said as far as he was concerned, there was no way to rebuild Petite Savanne after the damage done by Tropical Storm Erika and a committee representing the interests of the villagers agreed.

He said he met with the group and there was unanimity that relocation was the only option. Several sites have already been identified.

"They recognized that the place is not a safe place and it would not be a safe place anytime in the future," Skerrit told a media briefing adding that Cabinet has appointed a committee chaired by the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Housing and Lands to assess the potential resettlement sites. "Safety is key. The present and future safety and the vulnerable index of those sites must be given strong consideration."

The prime minister said while government was initially exploring sites close to Petite Savanne to establish a new community for the residents, the village committee had indicated that the search could be broadened as they had no problem going further.

"They, in fact, pointed out to us several locations that are not very close to Petite Savanne for consideration," Skerrit noted.

Sites for relocating Dubique residents are also under consideration.

Once agreement on a site is reached, Skerrit said, government would move expeditiously to construct homes and put the necessary infrastructure in place. But he said it would not happen overnight. "You are talking about infrastructure one has to put in place, you are talking about facilities such as community centres, playing facilities, you are talking about health centres," the prime minister explained.

"Resettlement is not a simple exercise. There are a number of matters to consider and we have solicited the support and advice of the UNDP [United Nations Development Programme] and also the University of the West Indies to advise us on some of the matters we have to consider and rolling out a plan for resettlement."

Skerrit said that in addition to maintaining access to the areas even after residents are moved elsewhere, government intended to help people retrieve items which they may want to salvage from their former homes.