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City Gate shuts down

BY CAROL MATROO Wednesday, November 19 2008

click on pic to zoom in

Port-of-Spain came to a standstill yesterday as thousands of commuters were stranded while making their way into and out of the capital city because of muddy waters that flooded major streets.

After five days of heavy, sporadic rainfall, the flood-plagued city and environs could not keep up with the congestion of commuters and motorists on the streets.

And to top it all off, the Public Transportation Service Corporation temporarily shut down the City Gate transportation hub at South Quay. Buses and maxi taxis could not operate as there was no place for them to pass.

South Quay was about two inches thick with a dark brown, slimy mud-slush that smelled. It was impassable from about 2 pm as flood waters reached pedestrians by their waists and motorists did not dare to drive through. It was water galore, also, along the Eastern Main Road, Priority Bus Route and Morvant Junction.

Pedestrians stood along streets in Port-of-Spain keeping a watch on an overcast sky, drivers sat for hours in their cars; it was pure frustration.

Commuters were willing to talk, only if Newsday did not use their full names.

“Me? I looking for a place to park. I not moving any where and I going Chaguanas. Let’s say this was a tsunami, then everybody would be dead. We can’t get out,” Susan said.

Mary said she hoped to reach her Arouca home by 10 pm. “I reached home at 8 pm yesterday (Monday) so that would be good...at least, I hope so, after leaving home at 6 am every day. Is three hours now I in traffic. Is time they do something in the city to get people out of the city. You in a jungle...nobody could get out, left nor right nor east nor west. It’s frustrating,” she said.

Her friend claimed she had “never seen anything like this in my life. My whole foot full with mud.”

Elton Oliver, an assistant teacher at Goodwill Industries for disabled and handicapped children, stood with his two crutches clutched under his arms. He was hoping that his niece would be able to come pick him up.

This was the scenario that faced everyone, yesterday afternoon when City Gate was at a virtual standstill.

Commuters desperate to get home decided to brave the Beetham Highway as they trudged along trying to coax, maybe, other motorists into giving them a lift.

Employees at banks around Independence Square sat in their offices as they observed the chaos outside.

Another young woman claimed this was the “flood of all floods.”

“Two bridges flood in Maracas, St Joseph, yesterday (Monday) so I don’t know what I will be facing when and if I get to Curepe,” she said.

However, assistant deputy general manager, operations at PTSC, Brian Juanette, said the corporation was “always prepared for this type of event.

“It’s just that there is a waiting period and you have to manage it. It’s nothing to be overly worried about,” Juanette said at City Gate yesterday.

He said this rise in flood waters was worse than the one experienced in 1993, where the entire compound was “filled with water up to the car park.”

Just before 5 pm, PTSC buses were being guided and loaded as weary commuters rushed on, as the flood waters were beginning to recede.

But for the maxi taxis...they still could not get through.

“Maxi taxis, because they are a lower profile vehicle, they would take longer to return to full service,” Juanette said.

However, he assured that “we will stay here until the last person is sent home, whatever it takes for us to move everybody, we will be here.”

Despite the chaos of people trampling over each other to get into the buses that were ready to go, Juanette admitted people may not move in an orderly manner.

“The main thing is to move buses en masse and load people as we move along,” he said.

Treasurer of the Route Two Maxi Taxi Association, Clarence Taylor said up to 7.45 last night, commuters were walking through flood waters on the bus route and Eastern Main Road to Coconut Growers’ Association for maxis, which were turning around to head east outside of City Gate.

“What I think we should have is army trucks to help the people across the water so they can get to their transport and we should have backhoes in here (City Gate) to push the water out,” he said.

Taylor said no maxis were “moving from east to west or west to east.”

“The entire PBR from the PoS market to the Morvant Junction... maxis just turning back from the Croisee, Maritime Plaza and the gas station.

“This is the first time we ever experience anything like this... the Aranjuez bridge and savannah flood out. One of my buses parked in San Juan since three o’clock and up to now, it can’t move,” Taylor said.

He added that there was a need for shelters in PoS for situations such as this.

“Government has been talking about this, but they need to do something. Children who are here, going home with their parents at the end of the day, should have a place where they can go and get a warm supper in situations like this,” Taylor said.

There was little police presence on Independence Square and South Quay at about 5 pm yesterday, however, at around 8 pm, Acting Police Commissioner James Philbert was seen, with several officers, conducting traffic at the corner of St Vincent Street and Independence Square. There were police cars and a police helicopter in the vicinity. The police began transporting stranded commuters from City Gate to get them to Riverside Plaza, at the Eastern Main Road, where maxis were parked last night.

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