Hurricane Tomas, which devastated the island of St. Lucia, greatly affected its southern region causing major flooding, landslides and wind damage. International Medical Corps immediately deployed local staff to assess damage and begin providing emergency health services and supplies in the hard-hit areas of Canaries, Dennery, Vieux-Fort, Fond St. Jacques and Soufriere, where the local hospital sustained significant damage.
“In the wake of Tomas, the main problem was, and continues to be, accessibility,” explains Principal Nursing Officer (PNO) at Soufriere Hospital, Gertrude Gustave. “We are just a community hospital; we don’t have an operating room, we don’t have a gynecologist. Any serious cases are usually forwarded to Victoria or St. Jude’s hospitals. So with both roads being blocked it is a big challenge…”
The road outside Soufriere Hospital is still covered with mud and two planks form a makeshift walkway for equipment engaged in clean-up and repair of the damaged hospital. This will take some time as the river must first be cleared and its banks reconstructed before the long road in front of the hospital can be fixed. Despite the damage, the hospital is continuing to operate albeit at high alert due to the risk of further land slippage on the much travelled routes to the rest of the island. This is a serious concern as the hospital is now operating with limited staff. Available medical staff members have to be escorted to the premises via the Coast Guard and have been working around-the-clock to manage the increased caseload of hurricane-affected St. Lucians.
“We see regular cases and we had a clinic for the first time today. Patients present regular illnesses like the flu but we also had a few cases of diarrhoea and vomiting and quite a few cases of injuries,” says PNO Gustave who thinks an influx of respiratory and gastrointestinal ailments is probable due to the storm. Because of floodwaters, the spread of waterborne diseases will be a major concern in St. Lucia for some time. In addition, with cleaning staff engaged in a constant sweeping of dust from drying mud from the surrounding streets, PNO Gustave notes that cases of asthma will also be on the rise.
International Medical Corps’ emergency response team has been working side by side with the National Emergency Management Organization (NEMO) in St. Lucia and is contributing to the process of compiling a quantitative assessment on the damage. In response to the identified needs, International Medical Corps is undertaking a comprehensive package of emergency and recovery services that will address the immediate needs of affected communities, while rebuilding the local health system and restoring basic services. We have determined that the provision of healthcare, hygiene education, emergency health kits and delivery of vital supplies as priority next steps in St. Lucia.