After suffering the devastating effects of spring tides, residents of Uitvlugt, Leonora and Stewartville on the West Coast Demerara were granted a respite yesterday as floodwaters began to recede, leaving many counting their losses and some bracing for more destruction.
When Sunday Stabroek visited the affected areas yesterday, cleaning was the main priority for many who were eager for a return to normalcy at their homes. However, while a majority had started and even completed their cleaning, others were discouraged to do so as they feared a recurrence of the powerful tides that battered the three villages, destroying houses, a section of the Uitvlugt sea defence and inundating their homes.
The high tides began around 3 pm last Thursday and Friday saw waves rising in excess of 25 feet, extending to the roofs of many homes.
According to residents, they experienced another high tide during the wee hours of yesterday morning but the waves were not so powerful as those they previously experienced.
The high tides are expected to continue until tomorrow and residents have been warned to be alert and take the necessary precautions.
Ripped zinc sheets, toppled fences and water tanks, clogged drains, and mounds of garbage were visible throughout the communities yesterday.
Trucks were seen picking up the garbage and officials from the Ministry of Public Infrastructure were also seen on the ground working to rebuild the broken sections of the seawalls, with some sections being temporarily filled with bags of bricks.
Acting Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Carl Greenidge yesterday visited the communities, where he met with residents and distributed cleaning supplies.
Minister of Agriculture Noel Holder and a team along with officials from the National Drainage and Irrigation Authority also visited to conduct an assessment of the damage caused to Uitvlugt seawall.
Chief Sea and River Defence officer Kevin Samad said on Friday that approximately 75 feet of the upper part of the concrete crest wall of the Uitvlugt seawall had broken, resulting in the area being flooded. The force of the water also broke off a portion of the asphalt on the “Old Well side” road, and transported it several feet away, where it came to rest in the middle of the street. At Leonora, a section of the seawall was eroded, leaving behind panels of freshly exposed mud. At Stewartville, fences, shacks and vegetation were levelled, and workmen were seen using an excavator to fill mud into a section of the seawall that had broken off.
Preparedness and Response Unit Manager for the Civil Defence Commission (CDC) Major Sean Welcome yesterday told Sunday Stabroek that the CDC responded on Friday morning to a report of overtopping of the sea defences between the villages of Leonora and Uitvlugt. “We came. We did an assessment. Coming out of that assessment, we recognised the need for immediate emergency responses [for] the affected residents,” he said.
This, he noted, led to the establishment of two temporary emergency shelters at the Uitvlugt Secondary School and at the Uitvlugt/Leonora Community Development Centre
The shelter at Uitvlugt Secondary School, he said, was open to accommodate residents of Stewartville. As of yesterday morning, there were 41 persons there, including 17 children.
Each shelter has the capacity to bed in excess of 60 persons.
“Some persons from the Uitvlugt community have utilised the facilities for bedding. However, they are predominantly coming here for their hot meals and then some of them have chosen to go back to their residences,” Welcome related.
The shelters, Welcome said, have been set up for a 72-hour period, which ends on Monday based on the weather forecast. However, he noted that period could be extended depending on how the situation changes and if the need arises.
Welcome said about seven assessment teams were yesterday combing Uitvlugt to gather basic information regarding the impact and effects of the flooding. “They are looking at general household size, damage to crops, livestock, physical damage to public infrastructure, private property, etc,” he said.
‘This time beat all’
A resident of Uitvlugt told Sunday Stabroek that during the over twenty years he has been living in the area, he had never faced any such tragedy. “Abee does get flood, yes, but this time beat all. I don’t know wah yuh gone call this,” he said.
A single parent father, who rents a ground-level apartment in the street immediately after the seawall, related that he and his sons were forced to seek shelter in the upper flat of his landlord, who is currently overseas. “Me nah know wah them go come tell me yet but me do that to save some things because after the thing them start float and thing, meh start move them and carry them and just rest them,” he said. “It nah mek sense yuh go anywhere and stay fuh couple days because when yuh done is right hay yuh gah come back and clean,” he added.
“After the water ah come, yuh try block, block up all ova and nah talk how it been suh high, till here did full with sand,” the frustrated man said as he pointed to a mark on his wall, showing the level of the water before it receded. “After the water go up and the wave how it come, it lash everything back, everything right in hay, all the bag with the sand and suh. Me can’t control dah amount ah water because it start pour in like crazy,” he added.
The man said his children’s school supplies were also destroyed. “School pickney thing, everything done fuh school pickney, them nah gah nothing, everything, book, everything, school clothes, yuh might gah search fah dah, all them mattress soak, bed everything,” he noted as he stood next to a pile of soaked clothing and other items that were retrieved from the water.
Another resident of another street had a similar experience. “Everything is a mess. Is just thick, thick mud lef here to clean now. Everything is damaged, the kitchen is a whole different mess,” the man stated as he made use of his nephew’s help to wash the mud out of his apartment.
Several houses in the areas were also abandoned after the occupants were tired of the situation and decided to seek shelter at relatives. “Them live right down deh, under the sea mouth, and the wave just come and every single thing gone, suh them pack up and me ain’t even know if they will come back,” a Stewartville resident said. “Right now it appears that they might not come back but they ain’t give me notice yet,” he said.
“I didn’t get equipment damage but all the drum them with clothes, everything just turn over,” the man added. He further explained that he has two cars which were parked in the yard and were inundated. “The whole inside and mat soak. Right now, ah carry one at the wash bay to see what gone happen and the next one nah clean up yet,” he said.
“Hear nah just imagine the bed—calculate the bed height from the floor—the bed been cover completely with water,” the man added.
Sharmila, a Stewartville resident, said she had not started to clean as yet since she was told more high tides were expected. “Almost all meh electronics damage, like my fridge, washer and suh and right now me ain’t know where to turn,” she said.
School teacher Ashminie Shaw said a couple years ago she had a similar experience but not as bad. “…But the seawall broke at that time. I have never experienced something like the water so high for the 17 years that I am living here,” she added.
Shaw said she was greeted with the water when she return from work on Thursday afternoon. “I came home and I saw the water at the back there and I started to panic because normally when we have flood—like two months ago when we had flood, it didn’t reach in the house,” she explained. “Oh my god, I just wanted to go away and come back when it is all over and clean again because it’s just too much, I can’t take this anymore,” she added.
Meanwhile, frustration was evident among the parents seeking shelter at the Uitvlugt Secondary School, after several children fell ill and had to be attended to by a doctor on site.
A parent explained to Sunday Stabroek that her three-year-old son was among the few in need of emergency medical attention after he exhibited signs of a severe cold. “Is while the place cold and they have nowhere proper to stay and then they were exposed to the floodwater and so at first, like now it start tell,” one mother related.
Another child, this newspaper learnt, had to be transported by an ambulance to a nearby health centre after he too got a sudden cold and started to experience breathing problems.
“My child done got an asthma problem and with this cold now I got to keep watching he,” the parent related.
While this newspaper was at the school, prescriptions were being written by the doctor for the respective patients and arrangements were being made to have the supplies delivered for the children.
Mike Singh, Chairman and founder of the Demerara Charitable Foundation, a non-governmental organisation, who was at the Uitvlugt/Leonora Development Centre, related to this newspaper that he was trying to assess the needs of the affected residents and donate meals.
Yesterday, he contributed a quantity of bread and he hoped by Monday to make similar donations of biscuits and milk. Singh also said that he has been working to mobilise other supplies, such as clothing, disinfectants, cleaning supplies, and water filters. “…Because it’s the after effects, Leptospirosis, Malaria, all kinds of things and you know children they are the most vulnerable,” he said.
“We are also interested in the long term socio-economic impact on these residents and what programme and mechanisms we can use to help lift them out of poverty,” he also said. “Perhaps if it means to help relocate them from those vulnerable areas and we are also equally interested with the Ministry of Public Health at looking at what can be done in terms of support and counselling. Because being exposed to what they have been exposed to for some people is quite traumatic,” he added.
As a result of the situation, it was announced that students of Grades 7 to 10 of Uitvlugt Secondary School will have no classes on Monday and Tuesday. However, all other classes are expected to be held as normal and teachers and staff are asked to report to work.