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100-year-old bridge a danger to Grande Riviere tourists

Appeal for urgent repairs after accident leaves resident in ICU

By Michelle Loubon

Sherwin Ruiz, 66, president of the Grande Riviere Environmental Awareness Trust, is appealing to the relevant authorities to properly repair or construct a new bridge in the north-eastern community of Grande Riviere. It is the main artery into Matelot and Grande Riviere.

He said his brother Alvin Ruiz, 58, suffered an accident on the bridge across Mapepire River and has been warded since Ash Wednesday at the intensive care unit at the Port of Spain General Hospital. 

Armed with photographs of the 100-year-old, dilapida­ted Grande Riviere bridge, Ruiz said it poses a danger to the lives of about 1,500 residents in the Matelot/Grande Riviere communities. 

It also poses a hazard to the hundreds of domestic and international tourists who go tur­tle watching nightly or make the trek to the popular Shark River during the day. 

Turtle nesting season has begun and is expected to continue until September. 

Giving an update on the sit­uation yesterday, Ruiz said: “Imagine if the bridge were to collapse during the night when the tourists are visiting Grande Riviere Beach to look at the turtles. Imagine the catastrophe if they are going to Shark River. About 1,500 residents will be affected if the bridge tumbles down.” 

Ruiz added: “The bridge is further cracking up from the strain of heavy-duty trucks. We don’t know when it will collapse. It is a precarious situation.”

Comparing it to the Caroni River, he said: “Grande Ri­viere River does not swell like the Caroni River. It is filled by water gushing down the mountain sides, about 30 to 40 feet. The strength of the waterfall can pull down huge trees like immortelle and hog plum. The water can uproot entire bamboo stools and send them crashing into the river.” 

Tears welled up in his eyes when he spoke about his bro­ther Alvin Ruiz’s accident. 

Ruiz said: “My brother (Alvin) was riding his bicycle over the bridge at Mapepire River around 2 a.m. on Ash Wednesday morning. It hooked on the boards. He lost control. He skidded off the road and ended up about 30 feet from the bridge.”

“He now has a fractured skull, a left broken foot, damaged lungs. Doctors have removed his spleen. The doctors said he will pull through but we don’t know if he will remain a vegetable. We still have to get the report on the extent of the damage. He will have to get two operations...one on his face and one his foot. He is very agitated.” 

Since 2010, Ruiz said he alerted the Ministry of Works about the tragedy waiting to happen. 

Asked about the turtle nesting season, Ruiz said: “We had about 500 turtles on the Grande Riviere Beach. Now, we have about 200 in the peak season. People are tagging the turtles. “Tagging” is a form of molestation. There is definitely a drop in the population. In 2001, we collected about 81,000 hatchlings. We are collecting about 5,000 hatchlings.”

Chairman of the Sangre Grande Regional Corporation Terry Rondon said: “I made the report two weeks ago. I am happy to report on Monday, they started working on both sides of the bridge. The Ministry of Works is reinforcing the abutment on the bridge. I visited Matelot on Monday. They are working on it.” 

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