Saturday, December 16, 2017

Double blow for the city

Flash flooding... power outage...


SPECIAL RESERVE: Nora Buchoon is assisted by a member of the Defence Force in getting across flooded South Quay, Port of Spain, yesterday. —Photo: ANISTO ALVES

Mark Fraser


burdensome: A vendor standing in knee-high water tries to save her goods from flood waters at South Quay, Port of Spain yesterday. —Photo: AYANNA KINSALE

Mark Fraser

FLASH flooding and a power outage hit Port of Spain a double blow yesterday afternoon, leaving hundreds stranded and customers turned away from businesses, including banks.

A heavy shower that went on for about 20 minutes from around 12.30 p.m. caused flooding on Independence Square and South Quay, leading to a commuter pile up that echoed well into the evening.

Added to that was a power outage that followed within minutes of the flooding, shutting down malls for over an hour, closing some businesses altogether and forcing some banks to close around 1.30 p.m., half an hour early.

Frustrated customers lingered on the steps of the various financial establishments, some soaked in the rain and having come a long way to access the banks’ services.

At the food courts and restaurants, operators panicked, unsure of whether they should call it a day or whether the power was on its way back. Efforts to reach the Trinidad and Tobago Electricity Commission (T&TEC) on the cause and range of the outage were unsuccessful.

Flooding extended as far as Wrightson Road, French Street, Cipriani Boulevard and Colville Streets, causing intense traffic and forcing the deployment of police officers to divert traffic to alternative routes.

Downtown Owners and Merchants Association (DOMA) president, Gregory Aboud, weighed on yesterday’s confusion with the hope that infrastructure in the city will one day meet a different standard—and that the Port of Spain East Dry River does not pour out its vengeance on the city before that.

“We have the privilege of knowing how much work is still left to be done to take our country forward because from our vantage point is downtown Port of Spain, we understand only too well the type of drama that can occur from 60 minutes of heavy rainfall or from the failure of many items of our aging infrastructure,” Aboud said in a telephone interview.

“Unfortunately today, we have a headshot and an upper-body cut at the same time.”

Aboud said it is impossible to operate a business that runs on electricity when the supply is gone.

“It is also nerve-racking for the more than 150 food establishments downtown as they have no way of telling when the power will be restored and a prolonged blackout presenting a threat to the preservation of cold storage items.

“On the question of flooding, we usually have extensive build up of 12 to 18 inches on many of the north and south streets, with heavy retention on South Quay and this will usually subside within 15 to 30 minutes after the rain stops,” Aboud said.

“Where the serious concern exists is in the major water courses, especially the East Dry River, since debris coming down from north Port of Spain can become trapped under the bridge near Riverside Plaza, causing tonnes of silt and mud to pour into Independence Square and eventually cut off City Gate near South Quay.

“Coincidentally, this is the same problem plaguing Maraval and more recently, Diego Martin and this association is quite disappointed that our many recommendations to the Ministry of Works to ramp the bridges over these major waterways have been ignored,” he added.

Aboud said the solution of elevating bridges over watercourses was brought to the world more than 100 years ago by the Dutch and the Italians and it is “painful to know that we are unable to learn lessons which are more than a century old”.

Worry is mounting now as the country heads into the thick of the hurricane season, Aboud said, and T&T has invited trouble on itself through “failures over the past several decades”.

Yesterday’s forecast from the Meteorological Services of Trinidad and Tobago, for the later afternoon, evening and night, had warned that cloudy patches would bring light to moderate showers in varying areas and the chance of the thundershowers in a few areas.

As a result, Chief Executive Officer of the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Management (ODPM), Dr Stephen Ramroop, cautioned citizens in flood-prone areas to be on the alert.

Ramroop said first responder agencies - the Trinidad and Tobago Fire Service Department and Disaster Units of the various regional corporations - were prepared to roll out for emergencies.

As he has in the past, Ramroop has again pleaded for the responsible disposal of waste, as errant garbage in the city is a major contributor to flooding.