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West T'dad reels after August floods

By Camille Bethel camille.bethel@trinidadexpress.com

Floods have been an annual woe faced by many across Trinidad and Tobago.

A few minutes of rainfall and the capital city of Port of Spain as well as other parts of the country are covered in water.

Every year, sometimes more than once, the Caroni River bursts its bank and farmers and residents living nearby are left with thousands of dollars in damage.

However, 2012 was different.

The magnitude of floods that struck last year affected thousands of people and may have been the worst that this country has ever seen, as flood waters leaped out of the confines of their usual boundaries, devastating the lives of the unexpected.

The year started off with the usual perennial floods in low-lying areas in South and Central Trinidad, with hundreds of farmers once again losing crops and calling for compensation.

Then in April, there were minor floods in Cedros, where 12 houses were affected, with a Housing Development Corporation (HDC) project being blamed for the deluge.

As the year wore on, there were floods in areas such as Toco, Sangre Grande, Arima, Caura and Tacarigua, which were hit by flash flooding.

There were the perennial reports of flash flooding along Mosquito Creek, La Romaine, as well as in Cocoyea, and officials of the San Fernando City Corporation assisted affected residents.

The usual floods also took place along the East-West Corridor and in Port of Spain throughout the year, which left commuters stranded between Barataria and the capital following heavy afternoon showers.

But it would be the stories of the people affected by the floods that hit West Trinidad on August 10 that would grab the headlines for weeks as several communities, which had never seen such angry flooding before, were ravaged.

Early in the rainy season, Office of Disaster Preparedness and Management (ODPM) chief executive officer Dr Stephen Ramroop said the country was more ready for the 2012 rainy season than it was the previous year.

Yet the residents of Glencoe, Carenage, La Seiva, Santa Cruz, Petit Valley, along with La Puerta, Richplain and other areas in Diego Martin were not at all prepared for the estimated $109 million in damage they suffered after just two hours of rainfall that was caused by an active intertropical convergence zone (ITCZ) that early August morning.

Solomon Britto, of Richplain, and Everald Bentham, of Upper La Puerta, were killed when they were caught in their homes by the raging water.

The flooding left the communities inundated with mud and silt and there were millions in losses long after the waters subsided, while some families had to be relocated to shelters after their homes were partially or severely damaged.

Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar toured parts of Diego Martin and was forced to declare the north-west a "disaster area", with parts of La Horquette Road in Glencoe washed away and Diego Martin Highway closed off in order to clear the debris.

All emergency response systems were called out and 225 pieces of equipment and hundreds of volunteers and State employees were used in the clean-up operations in restoring the communities in the West.

Local Government Minister Suruj Rambachan told Parliament that close to 1,500 truckloads of debris and garbage were accumulated in the Diego Martin, Morne Coco Road and Maraval areas following the floods.

But there were mixed reviews on the disaster relief.

Residents in Glencoe praised the Government agencies' speedy response, while others in the Richplain area felt they were neglected and continued to call on the authorities to help them restore their lives even after emergency operations had ceased.

So devastating were the effects of the floods that the Ministry of Housing set up a Community Centre Housing Policy Facilitation and Implementation Unit and a Grant on the Move project to assist the 250 families affected by the floods and landslides.

Benefit concerts were held by several groups in collaboration with soca artistes to bring relief to the flood victims.

Volunteers conducted a soup-feeding programme, done in conjunction with the Salvation Army, in the western areas affected by the floods and the Red Cross Society of Trinidad and Tobago partnered with corporate firms which donated canned food, school bags, toiletries and household items.

Unilever employees readily gave up their holiday on August 13 to come out and provide support for families that suffered severe losses and the San Fernando Disaster Management Unit (SDMU), set up by the Office of the Mayor, embarked on a Disaster Relief Supplies Drive to help residents of Diego Martin and environs affected by the floods.

Trinidad and Tobago's Olympians also got on the volunteer bandwagon upon their return from the 2012 London Olympics by assisting the Ministry of Sport with the distribution of food hampers to residents of Diego Martin.

Even Caricom stood ready to give assistance and support to T&T in bringing relief to the people of the West and 26 servicemen and women from the RFA Argus aided with clean-up efforts in the Diego Martin region on September 1.

The foreign troops were in the country to join the Jubilee celebrations on the occasion of Trinidad and Tobago's 50th Anniversary of Independence.

By September, Government had forked out a total of $1.8 million to 100 families from the West affected by floods the month before.

The cheques, ranging in value from $3,000 to $7,000, were given out as part of the Ministry of Housing, Land and Marine Affairs Emergency Shelter Relief Grant Programme to 101 families from Diego Martin, Maraval, Carenage, Laventille and Morvant.

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