Worst Christmas ever, says resident

By Kim Boodram

LONG after the rest of the country has moved to another topic, the pain being felt by citizens on Trinidad’s south-western peninsula will keep on.
That pain will remain fresh in La Brea, in particular, where people’s homes border a coastline painted black with oil from a spill that emanated from a Petrotrin source last week Tuesday.
For some who have lived in La Brea their whole lives, the years have brought a dull acceptance that promises made decades ago of bounty to come from the booming energy sector will never materialise.
If anything, the very oil that was supposed to make them well-to-do has now come back to kick them in the pants, one man said.
At 71, Errol Lee has thrown his life into becoming a member of the fishing community in the small settlement hardest hit by the oil spill.
Lee, like many of the men his age in the area, gave up long ago on finding long-term work in the energy sector, a dream once held by all of La Brea.
Somehow, while wealth spewed all around La Brea, it failed to reach the pockets of most residents.
Lee said Monday he has let go of any such ambitions and has made his living in other ways, fishing included.
When Petrotrin authorities began talk last week of relocating residents closest to the spill, Lee was first among those to object.
“Where they want to move me and my madam and who will keep my house?
For now, some comforts are being offered to the community.
Meals are being provided by Petrotrin three times a day, as residents have been warned against large fires, including the use of their stoves, with the stench of oil right outside their front door.
Asked whether residents are suffering from the scent of hydrocarbons, which was up to Monday overpowering to visitors, Lee and others said they are certain that it does not have the same effect on a settlement that is used to it.
“That smell does come off the sea all the time,” he said.
“This is the worst we ever get it, but when we go out on the seas, that is what we smell. But when it first came in last week, it had a stink to it.”
One child became ill from the fumes last week and was hospitalised, but Lee does not anticipate any more ill effects. Still, at least one ambulance is being kept on call close to the cluster of homes that sit near to the thickest part of the oil-affected areas.
On Monday, some residents were seen carrying on with their Christmas preparations, painting their homes and attempting to clean up oil splashed in their yards.
The limitations set on the community are not just monetary, Lee said.
Children are no longer free to play and residents have to be careful what they touch, as the oily residue is everywhere.
Their relatives and friends may not be able to visit, as the fumes could be too much to bear.
Many people in the area do not own cars and may not be able to go outside the community to visit with others.
“All round, is not a nice time,” Lee said.
“This might be the worst Christmas La Brea ever had.” —See Page 17
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