Spring tides, weak defences inflict extensive flooding

Residents filling sandbags yesterday to block the river water from entering their home.

A combination of abnormally high spring tides and inadequate river defences left residents in several communities in Regions 3, 4 and 6 battling fast rising flood waters up to late last night.

The water from the Demerara river rushing over the river dam at Craig. The dam was reinforced with fresh mud yesterday but this was not strong enough to contain the water. (Photo by Mark McGowan)

While high tides early in the morning affected some villages, most of the damage appeared to be done by the second high tide, which occurred some time after 4 pm.

Several areas, including River’s View, Ruimveldt, Supply, Support, Craig, Friendship, Diamond, Grove, and Bagotstown were affected. Flooding also occurred from Patentia to Stanleytown on the West Bank Demerara and Vreed-en-Hoop on the West Coast Demerara. In Berbice, areas in New Amsterdam, East and West Canje and East Bank Berbice were also flooded last evening, after high tides.

Senior Engineer in the Ministry of Public Works Walter Willis told Stabroek News yesterday that the overtopping of the river defences was occurring because of the spring tide. He said the ministry was working aggressively to ease the situation by sandbagging vulnerable areas.

The spring tides are expected to continue until Saturday afternoon, he added, and that from then the tides would still be high but should not cause overtopping. He said that neap tide is expected to commence from Tuesday.

Friendship resident Kevin Angad trying to fix a temporary bridge for his neighbours.
Vehicles slowly traversing the flooded East Bank Public Road, at New Hope yesterday afternoon

Regarding the river dam along the East Bank, Willis said that it “is in a state of disrepair” and rehabilitation is scheduled as soon as adequate funding is acquired. He said that approximately 310 metres of river defence from the Craig turn to the sluice was an area of concern. He also identified areas such as Craig, Friendship and Bagotstown as those that would be most likely affected by the problems with the dam.

Meanwhile, teams from the sea and river defence unit of the Public Works Ministry and the National Drainage and Irrigation Authority (NDIA) were at work yesterday. In some areas they tried to reinforce mud dams.

Transport and Hydraulics Minister Robeson Benn and a team of officials were on the scene and some residents questioned why such work was not done earlier.  When approached for comment, the minister declined to speak.

‘We gon need an ark’

Two children frolic in the water that flooded their yard during spring tide yesterday.

One of the areas reinforcements were attempted was Craig. However, the late afternoon high tide pushed the mud away, creating what appeared to be a breach. This sent some residents into panic with one repeatedly shouting, “We gon need an ark.” The woman, who did not give her name, said that over the past two days the water levels were rising to threatening levels before they would eventually recede. However, this still left a large accumulation of water on the land.

At New Hope and Friendship the overtopping was so bad that the water crossed the Public Road and entered houses on the eastern side of the road.
Friendship resident Allan Foo said that during his 40 years living there, it was the first occasion he ever saw the water level so high in his community. “This never happen,” he said repeatedly.

Faye de la Cruz, who resides at Friendship, East Bank Demerara, said when she left home yesterday morning everything was alright. However, when she returned at about 4 pm, her home and major parts of her community were inundated.  “I had to move everything upstairs,” she said.

Two children frolic in the water that flooded their yard during spring tide yesterday.

Another resident at the Friendship address blamed the flooding on the poor drainage in the community. Cleveland Ramdeen suggested that the sluice in the area needed to be opened. He expressed health concerns.

James Russell, who lives in the upper storey of a two-storey house in Friendship, said that his yard was underwater for the last two days. He said too that the person occupying the lower flat had to vacate the premises since water had reached alarming proportions in the house. When Stabroek News visited Russell’s home he was moving some of his household articles and appliances to safety.

In Bagotstown, Sheik Hassan said he had gotten up early to pray and at around 4 am a neighbour called and said that it looked as if the sea dam had broken away.  Hassan said he and his wife then quickly tried to move some of their appliances to higher ground.  His wife, a businesswoman, had some of her stock saved in a room but despite their best efforts some of it was destroyed.  A lot of money, he said, would have to be spent to do repairs and to replace lost items.

Hassan, who has been living in the area for decades, said that this is the worst flood experience he has had. According to him, in the past his yard would flood but not the bottom flat where he and his family live. He said when the high tide occurred again yesterday afternoon more water began to rush in.

The Princes Street koker being overtopped during yesterday’s spring tide

The dam protecting the community from the river is too low, and this causes overtopping when there is high tide, Hassan said. He said too that the drainage in the community is poor. The problem is compounded by the persons who live on the reserve, he added.  He said the Neighbourhood Democratic Council (NDC) was not fulfilling its duties.

Bracing for worse
Residents of River’s View, Ruimveldt were also under knee-high water during the spring tide and many of them were bracing for even higher levels today.

The residents this newspaper spoke with last evening believed that flooding could be less damaging if the dam behind the area is maintained properly and the squatters removed.
When this newspaper visited the area yesterday afternoon, the water was halfway into the main entrance leading out to the public road. Residents had to hike up skirts and pants and take off their shoes to navigate through the water.  Children were seen squatting on fences to keep out of the water and every yard had water which infiltrated bottom flats.

A flooded backyard in River's View, Ruimveldt.

The water was ankle-high in Rita Baichu’s apartment while in the yard water was just below the knee. However, Baichu said that the water was even higher earlier in the day. “It running off now,” she said. Baichu shares her one-bedroom apartment with her five grandchildren and was contemplating where she would be spending the night.

In the same yard, two other tenants also found their apartments inundated.  An old, ailing man whose name was given as “Mr John” said that he had to pile his belongings on his bed and he missed work because of the flooding of his apartment. In the apartment on the other side of the wall, a woman was forced to put her refrigerator and other valuables on her dining table. In her bedroom, a bucket could be seen floating around. She too had to worry about where she would be spending the night.

In Abraham’s Lane, shop owner Morris Fernandes called for the city council to resurface the dam. At the entrance to his home there were sandbags to prevent more water from entering. Fernandes said that he was doing some cement work on his yard to build it against flooding but it was washed away in the early morning waters that flooded his home.

“Every spring tide the water comes over but not like this. This hea is a big spring. Tomorrow they say it gon be worse,” Fernandes said. He reasoned that the people living on the dam had reduced it and called for it to be “re-cap. We asking the council if they could resurface the damn fuh we,” he pleaded as he stood in knee-high water at the entrance to his home.

Meanwhile, at the Princes Street koker, the river water was gushing through cracks and was at even levels of the koker door. A rundown hut which looked abandoned was sitting in water which had spilled over at the side and was running across the street.
The Stabroek Market was also flooded.

Residents filling sandbags yesterday to block the river water from entering their home.

Meanwhile, residents were going to bed with their yards swamped under several feet of water and most of New Amsterdam and all of the villages on the East Bank Berbice were affected. The New Amsterdam Market was under several feet of water for the first time. When vendors left the market earlier in the afternoon, they never anticipated what would follow as a few hours later the facility was completely under water. As a result, many of them returned to attempt to salvage their goods.

Additionally, most of the equipment belonging Nauth Construction that was being mobilised to do construction work on the East Bank Berbice were under as much as 3 ft of water.

GuyOil, Sol and a number of oil companies on the East Bank Berbice, along with GuySuCo, were reported to have suffered tremendous losses. (Additional reporting by Tiffny Rhodius)


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