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Christmas ban on cooking

Residents upset at ruined holiday told to avoid open flames

By Sue-Ann Wayow sue-ann.wayow@trinidadexpress.com

Residents living in homes hugging the oil-blackened shoreline in La Brea cannot cook a Christmas meal today.

They have been banned indefinitely from using open flames.

Instead, families living in 28 homes will be relying on the three boxed meals being provided daily by State-owned Petrotrin. 

A massive oil spill originating from one of the company’s offshore facilities began drifting ashore in La Brea last Wednesday. 

A major clean-up effort is now underway, involving some residents who have benefited from the tragedy. 

They are being paid $50 an hour to work 12-hour shifts, cleaning fishing boats and shovelling and soaking up oil from the beachfront at Coffee Beach, Carat Shed and Queens Beach. 

However, many said no amount of money could compensate for the lost Christmas.

Resident Oneca Branker-Showers, 29, said, “Christmas is ruined. I did nothing. I did not paint or clean or go shopping. I didn’t want to do any of this because next thing, they come tomorrow and say we have to move out.”

Errol Lee, 76, who lives near the shore with his wife, Agnes Bernard-Lee, said: “This is the first time I am seeing such an oil spill. I have lived here for 31 years and I have seen nothing like it before.” 

He said the strong scent coming from the oil was causing his eyes to burn, and he has been using medication to prevent coughs since the spill began. Since Lee is a pensioner, he was not asked to work on the clean-up. 

Grandmother of 12 Cynthia Bab­oi wept, telling the Express since her son could not go out to sea to work, there was no money to purchase groceries or gifts for the children. 

Baboi, 49, said the oil was not only coating the beaches but had also entered the mangrove where no cleaning was taking place.

Shevon Showers, a construction worker, has been hired as part of the clean-up crew. He is employed with Tiger Tanks Trinidad Ltd, one of the contractors involved in the exercise. 

He said there were two 12-hour shifts, around the clock, at $50 per hour. He said working in the night was better because the fumes were not as strong. 

“When the sun is out, the vapour gives off a strong scent. When you are inhaling it, you feel as if there is something in your throat,” he said. 

But Showers said Petrotrin was being co-operative providing breakfast, lunch and dinner for all residents because they were not allowed to cook. He said hampers were also provided. He suggested residents be relocated temporarily to State-owned homes until the oil was cleaned up. 

Showers said Christmas celebrations this year would not be the same. 

“This whole thing upset Christmas plans. Nobody could bake. Nobody could cook and do the usual things that families would be doing around this time. This is affecting the area and all who will be coming here.”

Resident Marie Green said everybody usually would be liming and bathing on the beach for Christmas, but this year, there will be none of that. 

Fishermen are also feeling the brunt of the oil spill. 

Kenny Rampersad, a fisherman from Aripero whose boat remains covered in oil, said they had no fish to sell for days and that meant no extra money for Christmas. 

He said: “Right now, we have no­thing. My boat will take a long while to clean and when it is cleaned, I will have to fish in another area because the fish will be contaminated here.” 

Fisherman Madan Rambharose said because of the spill, he had no mo­­ney to purchase groceries, or the gifts his family wanted for Christmas.

Some residents complained not enough persons from the com­mu­-

nity were getting jobs with the clean-up operations, and those who were getting were ones not directly affected by the oil spill. 

Member of Parliament for La Brea Fitzgerald Jeffrey, who visited the area yesterday, said emergency relief was needed by those affected. 

“One, they need immediate relocation. The scent here is really strong. Two, they need security here to secure the premises of the residents, and three, they should get some sort of financial compensation.” 

He said not only the fishermen benefited from their daily catch but also residents who would assist them. He said the entire neighbourhood was affected. 

“The residents are innocent. I don’t think they should suffer because of the oil spill.”

Jeffrey said the cause of the oil spill should be thoroughly investigated. 

• See Page 9

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