Close this search box.

Tobago’s close call with Hurricane Beryl highlights urgent need for preparedness

It's time to stop being 'unserious' about climate action.

Fundraising efforts to assist the victims of Hurricane Beryl get back on their feet have begun. You can help by clicking on this link.

Tobago was spared the worst. Again. Hurricane Beryl was expected to make landfall on the smaller island of the twin-island state of Trinidad and Tobago by midnight on Sunday, June 30, 2024. But a few gusts of wind and a little rain signalled that the island was once again escaping the wrath of another hurricane.

Beryl was not just any regular hurricane. As early as Wednesday, June 26th, the Trinidad and Tobago Meteorological Service began monitoring a low-pressure system, dubbed AL95, 2,600 km east of the islands. By Friday, it had become Tropical Storm Beryl, and on Saturday, it had morphed into a hurricane. But it did not stop there because, by the time it was expected to make landfall on Sunday night, it had levelled up to a Category 4 hurricane.

Credit: Tobago Emergency Management Agency

This evolution took less than 48 hours, breaking records for the earliest Cat 4 hurricane to be recorded and one of the fastest. Its size was truly one to behold, with its feeder bands covering most of the Caribbean archipelago from Trinidad to the US Virgin Islands.

Tobago was already dealing with heavy rainfall from a low-level trough Friday night into Saturday morning when it received news that Beryl had become a hurricane and was expected to make landfall late Sunday night. Immediately, the Tobago Emergency Management Agency (TEMA) jumped into action and began convening disaster response meetings. Saturday’s weather system had deposited over 150 mm of rainfall, properly saturating the ground, causing authorities to be worried about the possibility of extensive landslides with the passage of a hurricane with more intense rainfall predicted.

Credit: Tobago Emergency Management Agency

Tobago’s population was put on high alert and told to stock up on water and food supplies and prepare go-bags. Fishermen were instructed to take their vessels out of the water, and residents were instructed to do what they could to protect their properties. Many people heeded those warnings and began crowding grocery stores to stock up on supplies.

Meanwhile, parties were in full swing on the island as hundreds of young adults from Trinidad descended on Tobago for the annual Island Crashers festivities. At first, they were not worried because, of course, “God is a Trini.” Unfortunately, it was the same sentiment felt by several Tobagonians who experienced warnings of hurricanes in the past, only to experience a bit of heavy rainfall and some wind with no major damage to infrastructure or life.

But by Sunday, the hurricane had rapidly intensified to a Category 4 hurricane, and more people began to take it seriously. Again, they were warned by the Chief Secretary of the Tobago House of Assembly, Farley Augustine, and by the central government. Most fishermen heeded the warnings and got their vessels out of the water. Sixteen shelters were activated. Community response teams were mobilised and positioned at points around the island likely to experience the worst impact.

Credit: Tobago Emergency Management Agency

Agencies were placed on high alert. Schools and public offices (except for essential services) were to be closed the next day. A state of emergency was declared. Augustine warned that Hurricane Beryl exceeded the capacity of the THA and the central government to deal with the potential devastation and would require international assistance. Tobagonians were warned to expect an impact worse than Hurricane Flora in 1963, which is still etched in the memories of the older generations. That Category 3 hurricane destroyed 90% of the island’s infrastructure and decimated agriculture. (Tobago is yet to restore its agriculture industry to what it was before Hurricane Flora.)

With that in mind, Tobagonians bunkered down. One hundred and forty-five persons sought refuge at shelters scattered across the island. Others remained in the safety of their homes, glued to their devices for updates. However, at the same time, Tobago recorded its 11th murder of the year. (Thirty-year-old Nathan Roach was shot to death in Bethel.) Meanwhile, in Charlotteville, residents remained defiant and continued with their Fisherman Fete activities. Despite being shut down by the police around 10:30 p.m., they continued. In fact, they questioned whether a hurricane was on its way because the atmosphere was still and humid and the sea was calm.

By midnight, Tobago braced for the impact, but it was slow to come. However, a few gusts of wind and a bit of rainfall were enough to send the remnants of the revellers from the Charlotteville Fisherman Fete home. On the walkie-talkie app Zello, the only reports were of the occasional gusts of wind and bits of rain.

Many people did not sleep or only dozed off for a few minutes at a time, anxious about what was predicted to come. By 5:30 a.m. in Charlotteville, the normal crystal-clear, blue-green waters were now brown, roaring, and pounding the coastline, in stark contrast to their nature only 6 hours prior. It was accompanied by strong winds and rain. The sound of a conch shell pierced the air as a fisherman attempted to alert villagers of vessels in distress. One was overturned, with its contents (coolers, tackles, etc.) being tossed around in the waves.

A couple of other vessels were facing similar fates. These belonged to fishermen who refused to heed the warning. Within 15 minutes, at least 20 villagers were on the shore, risking their lives attempting to rescue the vessels despite the errancy of the vessels’ owners. By 7 o’clock, the village had lost electricity, and more villagers gathered on the bay, all drenched from the rain.

Charlotteville Fishermen being alerted that vessels were in distress. Video by Tobago Updates cameraman, Kerry Porter

Soon they learned of several fallen trees blocking the main roadway into the village. Immediately, they mobilised with power saws and all manner of cutting tools to assist CERT crews in clearing the road. By 9:30 AM, they succeeded. It was clear that the fallen trees were the reason for the power outage, but with the continuous rainfall, it would be hours before T&TEC crews could safely begin to work on restoring electricity. But this situation is not new for Charlottevillians. They checked in on each other, cooked some food, and waited patiently for the electricity to be restored.

Around the island, most of the reports focused on fallen trees blocking roadways, bringing down power lines, and falling on homes. Similar to Charlotteville, residents and even government officials assisted in clearing debris and providing relief. There were at least 45 damaged roofs and 5 reports of residential flooding. Despite concerns about landslides due to the already saturated soil, only two reports were recorded. In all, there were over 221 reports (as of 3:00 p.m. on Wednesday, July 3). There were no reports of fatalities or injuries. 

Charlotteville fishermen answer the call of the conch shell to assist in rescue of a fishing vessel. Video by Tobago Updates cameraman, Kerry Porter.

By all indications, Tobago escaped the worst. The eye of the hurricane veered further north than predicted. Instead, it devastated the north of Grenada, Carriacou, Petit Martinique, Union Island, Canouan, and Mayreau, according to reports from the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA). Other islands, such as Barbados, St. Lucia, St. Vincent, Dominica, and Trinidad, all recorded some damage, but it paled in comparison to the aforementioned. Hurricane Beryl has claimed the lives of at least six people so far, with fears that those statistics will increase. 

Islands such as Carriacou and Petite Martinique in Grenada experienced 98% destruction of their infrastructure, rendering each of their combined population of 10,500 homeless. Communication to both islands was cut off as Beryl’s winds broke cell towers as though they were toothpicks. The only communication with the outside world was through a Starlink connection in the possession of independent journalist Jonathan Petramala.

Together with his colleague WXChasing, they were able to release the first images to the world, showcasing the utter devastation of the islands. Through Petramala and a satellite phone in the possession of the Member of Parliament for Carriacou and Petite Martinique, Tevin Andrews, Prime Minister of Grenada Dixon Mitchell was able to get initial reports on the state of the islands. Access to both islands in the hours after the hurricane passed was difficult because sea conditions were not favourable for the Grenadian Coast Guard to sail. 

The airport terminal also suffered extensive damage, and Grenadian authorities had to wait on helicopter assistance from Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago to conduct reconnaissance missions and connect with the people. The cost of loss and damage to the tri-island is yet to be calculated, but it will impact the government’s fiscal plans. They have already signalled to their debtors that they will need a deferral on their payments to meet the immediate needs of their citizens.

Only 20 years ago, Grenada faced a similar situation where Hurricane Ivan decimated the island. Ironically, Tobago was in the path of Hurricane Ivan in 2004; however, hours before landfall, the eye of the storm shifted north towards Grenada. It was almost déjà vu for what happened with Hurricane Beryl on Sunday. While Tobago escaped, Grenada was forced to pick up the pieces and enter into high amounts of debt to rebuild its nation. It was working its way out of debt and gradually building back its economy, but Hurricane Beryl has set the nation back once again.

The incident has prompted Prime Minister Mitchell to reinforce the call for climate financing. At a press briefing on Wednesday morning, he said, 

“We are no longer prepared to accept that it is okay for us to constantly suffer significant, clearly demonstrated loss and damage arising from climatic events and be expected to rebuild, be expected to borrow to rebuild year after year while the countries that are responsible for creating the situation and exacerbating the situation sit idly by with platitudes and tokenism. Grenada’s economy and Grenada’s environment, both physically built and natural, have taken an enormous hit from this hurricane.” 

Residents work alongside CERT team through the rain to clear trees blocking access to the village of Carlotteville. Video by Tobago Updates cameraman, Kerry Porter.

Beryl’s record-breaking strength as a hurricane was aided and abetted by record-breaking high sea and atmospheric temperatures during the dry season in 2024. The accelerating increase in temperatures is a direct result of the global failure to reduce carbon emissions significantly. Small Island Developing States in the Caribbean, Pacific, and around the world would only contribute 1% of global carbon emissions, yet they are the most impacted. Developed nations continue to be reluctant to fulfil Paris Treaty Agreement commitments of providing $100 billion in climate financing to developing nations like Grenada, which is struggling to build its economy when they are constantly faced with the costs of loss and damage. 

While the Caribbean rallies around its affected brothers and sisters, leaders are weary and fearful that a category 4 hurricane so early in the season is indicative of impending regional devastation in 2024. It should be a wake-up call for Tobagonians. They might have been lucky this time, but luck may soon run out. 

Beryl is not done yet but has continued on its way to Jamaica, Haiti, and the Cayman Islands, leaving devastation in its wake. 


Picture of Kandace Jackson

Kandace Jackson

Kandace Jackson has been a dedicated journalist based in Tobago for the past twelve years, specialising in environmental reporting. Her deep passion for the environment and a relentless pursuit of adventure drive her to keep climate justice issues at the forefront of her work.

Currently stationed at Tobago Updates, Jackson is renowned for her hands-on approach to journalism – whether venturing out to sea or hiking through the rainforest – to fully grasp and convey the challenges at hand, thereby raising awareness about environmental concerns. When she’s not reporting, Jackson enjoys spending her downtime immersed in nature, whether it’s relaxing at the beach, exploring new landscapes, travelling, or losing herself in a good book.

See more stories

Follow us on social media

Recent stories

Stay up to date on the latest climate news and opportunities in the Caribbean!

Subscribe to our newsletter

Caribbean Climate
Justice Brief

Categories and tags