The photographs and video coming from Greenvale Park in La Horquetta speak volumes about the challenges facing TT in managing rainfall run-off. Images captured by trapped residents in homes under more than ten feet of flood waters showed buildings in water almost to their roofs, of cars totally covered. The stories emerging from the situation on social media were horrifying, a pregnant woman trapped in her home desperately calling for help, residents perched on tables trying to keep their heads above the rising water.
In Oropune Gardens, residents watched the rising waters surge over their anti-flood walls and through windows. The list of disasters was equally intimidating. Tumpuna Road on the San Raphael stretch was flooded. Grande Riviere River and Shark River breached their banks. Landslides and flooding on Matura Road, and flooding on the Valencia stretch and Old Valencia Road blocked access to Toco and Matelot. Sangre Chiquito, Plum Mitan and Biche were flooded. Sangre Grande was entirely cut off from the rest of the country. The Cunupia River broke its banks, flooding the St Helena Bypass Road and parts of Chaguanas.
WASA announced that heavy rainfall required it to shut down some of its treatment plants and to reduce the output of major plants to address clogging of its filtration systems and power failures.
The Office of Disaster Preparedness and Management (ODPM) issued an adverse weather warning on Tuesday and followed that with an orange level adverse weather alert for TT at 10 am on Friday. The ODPM's Disaster Management Unit, led by Captain Neville Wint was on the ground co-ordinating rescue efforts, which included the deployment of emergency inflatable rafts to reach stranded residents.
It's time that TT, which has incrementally improved its disaster response capabilities, moved beyond coping with the results of flooding to learning from our increasingly destructive experiences with ever more damaging weather. Of particular concern were the experiences of Oropune Gardens and Greenvale Park, both projects undertaken by the Housing Development Corporation on low-lying lands formerly used for agriculture. Was the risk of developing these lands for housing properly researched before construction began? Was the development designed to honour existing drainage patterns and to ensure that flood risks were minimised?
The Government cannot point fingers at developers engaging in indiscriminate construction if it does not demonstrate leadership in the engineering of its own massive housing construction projects. Every flood is an opportunity to map water levels, chart sources and weaknesses in drainage and to engineer improvements and new systems, such as detention ponds that address experienced reality.
Fixing the problem must go beyond restoration to anticipating and managing what is now a continuous pattern of increased rainfall. The jury may well be in on our capacity to cope.