Clean-up works began yesterday in preparation for the recapping of the Diamond Housing Scheme well, which caused an eruption of mud, water and suspected methane gas on Thursday evening, after being illegally dug by a resident.
While the recapping, which is expected to start tomorrow, can take as long as three weeks, officials have assured that the release of gas has been limited to the property, removing the risk of exposure to residents in the surrounding area. Nonetheless, some residents yesterday said they remained fearful for their safety, while well owner Soownauth ‘Water Man’ Gorakh, who lost everything as a result of the destruction caused by the eruption, reportedly expressed his remorse.
Director of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Kemraj Parsram, according to a release from the Ministry of the Presidency, said that based on tests conducted in the area on Friday, it was discovered that the gas detected has been constrained within the property and, therefore, a safe zone has been established.
Sunday Stabroek understands that it was based on this finding that the Guyana Power and Light Incorporated (GPL) was asked to restore power to residents.
The Ministry of the Presidency said yesterday that the Ministry of Public Infrastructure (MOPI) commenced the clean-up of the property yesterday in order to give the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) and the Guyana Water Incorporated (GWI) access to the area to recap the well.
That operation is expected to last approximately two to three weeks, Lieutenant Latchman Persaud of the National Emergency Operations System department in the Civil Defence Commission (CDC) said.
Senior Petroleum Analyst at the GGMC, Mitchell Prince, related that the plan is to run two sizes of casings into the ground where the well was dug. “It is the reverse of drilling a well. The hole is already there, it is now to put the casings in and seal it off. We are going to use 18 inch casings on the outside and 14 inches diameter casings on the inside. That would be sealed around with concrete and there will be a valve. During the process of construction, the valve will be left opened so as to vent and release the pressures. When you are finish, sealing up then you can close the valve. This can be done in about three weeks,” he was quoted as saying.
The Guyana Fire Service (GFS) was the first responder on Thursday night after the eruption occurred, but it was also reported that officers were unsure of how to handle the situation. As a result, the CDC was called in and organised a team consisting of representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Massy Gas Products, ExxonMobil, GWI, the Guyana Police Force, the GFS, and the GGMC to monitor and assess the situation.
It was also related that the resident drilled the well to a depth of 130 feet and was aiming to go a further 20 feet before the eruption, which left three buildings plastered with mud, occurred.
When this newspaper visited the scene yesterday, an excavator was seen removing the slush from Gorakh’s yard.
But even as works have begun, some residents were frustrated by the lack of information being shared with them and expressed concerns over the health risks that could potentially arise from the decision to dump the slush along the side of the road.
One woman who shared her concerns said she would have preferred the authorities dispose of the waste at a different location since she does not feel safe with it being dumped at the side of the road.
“This is crazy. The drain is already clogged and we already have issues with the road when it rains. Once it rains it will be pouring back into the street and the thing is we really do not know the content of the slush,” the woman said.
Alluding to the use of the excavator to remove the slush, the woman added, “It is not even safe for him to be using the machine because with everything that came out from under there it’s probably very hallow. All the rolling and vibration he’s doing there we really don’t know the vacuum or space that thing created and what can cave in to his vibrations going in and out of that yard. It’s not safe for him, it’s not safe for us.”
However, an official on the ground who later engaged the woman explained that the slush is comprised of mud, sand and water.
Another resident, who stood close by watching as the workers dumped the contents from the yard, questioned why it could not have been loaded into a truck and disposed of elsewhere. “They are taking the waste from inside the yard and dumping it right in front people’s house. They are creating other problems for us in the street,” he said.
Regarding concerns over claims that the authorities have not been engaging residents on the findings, one resident said, “We are the residents of this community, even if it’s factual that the waste is safe, we do not know that because they have not shared that with any of us. We need to have information about what’s going on.”
Sunday Stabroek was further told that apart from the one time they were advised of the precautionary measures that need to be taken, they have not received any other information from the officials on the ground.
“They only talking to the media, but how are we supposed to know what’s going on when we hadn’t had lights all day yesterday? How were we supposed to watch the news or listen to radio?” the woman asked.
NDC investigation launched
Meanwhile, according to a release from the Region Four Regional administration, the Diamond/Grove Neigh-bourhood Democratic Council (NDC) has commenced an investigation into the incident.
The announcement was reportedly made by NDC Chairman Bharrat Narine, who expressed gratitude to the region’s Regional Executive Officer Pauline Lucas for immediately responding to the situation and putting systems in place to assist those who were affected.
“This is great team work and as the Chairman of the Diamond Grove NDC I would like to go on record thanking the REO while praising her leadership in this unfortunate incident,” Narine stated.
As to the safety of the residents, Director General of the CDC Lieutenant Colonel Kester Craig, who is responsible for coordinating the response efforts, according to the Ministry of the Presidency release, reportedly related that some work will have to be undertaken to determine whether the residents can remain there or if they will have to be moved permanently. At this time, however, he said that there is no need for evacuation.
Alluding to the fact that the home owner had failed to obtain a permit from the Hydro Meteorological Office to conduct such drillings, Craig urged citizens take this as a lesson and understand that it is important that due process be followed.
“If you are drilling wells you must receive permits from Hydromet because you can have situations like this that threaten your life, your neighbours’ lives and other people around you. You have to be careful and follow the rules. If you don’t, you are going to put people’s lives at jeopardy,” he noted.
‘At a loss’
The statement from Region 4 also reported that the affected family has received the kind support of their neighbours, as they attempt to “rebuild their lives after the unfortunate incident”.
It was stated that Gorakh and his wife, Tulabhaduree Gorakh, along with their three children, aged 18, 15 and nine, have sought food, shelter and clothing from neighbours as they were unable to save anything from their house.
It was also stated that the businessman expressed “unreserved remorse and sadness” over the incident and related that he and his wife attempted to dig the well after experiencing water troubles.
“I met with the residents because it is the very neighbours who have been affected took me in with my wife and three children and I have been speaking to them regularly indicating that if I could have changed the situation I certainly would. However, I am affected myself losing almost everything and based on the advice from CDC and other persons on the ground the house is completely damaged owing to the fact that the slush and gas would have destroyed everything,” he related.
Tulabhaduree, who echoed her husband’s sentiments, reportedly related that while the extent of their damages cannot yet be determined, it likely amounts to over $20 million.
“I am at loss as to what we will do as everything that we built over the years together have all gone. We were doing something that we thought we could have as this reservoir was not for commercial purposes and the residents nearby can attest to that as we were seeking to alleviate our unstable water supply. Yes, my husband has a water business but this reservoir had nothing to do with it and we are further hurt by the many inaccuracies that is being piloted by many persons out there,” she said.