Schools close as lingering weather system continues to affect Trinidad & Tobago

Inclement weather in Tobago on June 2, 2007. The twin-island republic of Trinidad and Tobago has been experiencing adverse weather due to tropical wave Invest 91-L, which struck the country on October 5, 2022. The effects of the system are expected to last until October 7. Photo by Georgia Popplewell on Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Following widespread flash flooding across Trinidad and Tobago on October 5 as a result of a tropical wave called Invest 91-L, the unyielding weather system has continued to adversely affect the country, as well as other southern Caribbean islands.

Around 7:00 a.m. local time (UTC-4) on October 6, the Trinidad and Tobago Meteorological Service issued an update stating that the Riverine Flood Alert advisory had been upgraded to Orange Level, explaining:

Continuous rainfall overnight has pushed major watercourses to critical thresholds and some may be close to overspilling or already doing so. Periods of heavy showers, rain and thunderstorms are still expected. This additional rainfall, in combination with spring tides, can keep the river levels elevated and there now exists a severe risk to public safety, livelihood and property. Smaller water courses over both Trinidad and Tobago are also elevated and can burst their banks with additional rainfall.

It was at this point, at approximately 7:00 a.m., that Minister of Education Nyan Gadsby-Dolly announced via her Facebook page that schools across the country would remain closed for the day. The timing of the announcement angered parents and political opponents alike. Facebook user Aleem Mohammed responded:

Ignorant of the reality that some people have to leave their house before 5 AM.
At least the Tobago authorities have a basic level of common sense and announced last night, without need for a weather alert.

The Tobago House of Assembly, the administrative body for the sister isle, had decided since October 5 that schoolchildren were to stay at home the following day.

Jill Ann countered:

[I]t doesn’t matter when it’s announced because not everyone has Facebook or listens to the radio or watches news it always has to be a personal decision.

Narrisa Mandol disagreed:

Parents were waiting all night for a decision by the Ministry.

It would NOT have been raining in some parts of Trinidad when parents woke up. Many would have felt obligated to send their children to school as the position of the government yesterday in the face of all the flooding was ONLY schools that were flooded should be dismissed early. Classes should remain in session for all other schools. That is the message the Ministry’s position sent loud and clear yesterday. […]

What about the principals and teachers, whose direct employer is the Ministry, and would have needed official word from the Ministry to stay home? They would have headed out this morning to report for duty.

Stop blaming your fellow citizens for the delayed action by the Ministry of Education. We have been through heavy rains and the massive damage it causes too many times for the Ministry to act this late.

As it turned out, many parents who had sent their children to school had to make arrangements to have them collected. Additionally, Nikki Hilaire-Roach made the point that caterers who provide meals via the national school feeding programme were already delivering breakfasts by the time the decision was made, and she strongly suggested that they ought to be compensated.

Maria Marquez asked a pertinent question:

Dr. Dolly why is it when we know online school can be done plans aren’t put in place when we’re having adverse weather????🤯

After Presentation College Chaguanas, a secondary school located in central Trinidad, flooded prior to the minister's announcement, Tyrone Ali posted on Facebook:

Consider the unsanitary situation for these children […] about what has been swirling in these flood waters […] about how these teachers and children are told by the Ministry of Education that they must report for school today. […]

[I]t's not just about the school eh. It's about parents finding the money to fund transportation and meals today. It's about parents and children waking up early to face this. It's about teachers and drivers adding to the traffic woes in a certain unnecessary way today.

Echoing Marquez’ point about virtual classes, Ali continued:

Clearly we learnt nothing out of online work during the past 2 plus years. That experience should have been used to shape a hybrid policy for days like these when we can instantly switch to a virtual mode by ensuring teachers and students had the resources, capability, training and possibility of ensuring the instructional process continued.

Michelle Harper, meanwhile, was confused as to why the announcement was not posted first to the Ministry of Education's Facebook page, rather than to the minister's, saying, “This disconnect from society NEEDS TO STOP!!!”

The Trinidad and Tobago Guardian newspaper later tweeted:

The Ministry of Rural Development and Local Government soon added that one of the country's main rivers, El Carmen, more commonly known as the Caroni River, had burst its banks:

The continued assault prompted some netizens to muse about possible solutions to such large-scale flooding:

In the midst of such uncertainty, rescue teams continue to search for 44-year-old Teresa Lynch, who was swept away by flood waters on October 5 and is now presumed dead.

Update: Lynch's body was found on October 7, 2022.

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