THE EXTENSIVE flooding throughout the country was described as a national disaster by Dr Keith Rowley yesterday during his tour of some of the worst-affected areas.
As a result of two days of rain, Mayaro was cut of from the rest of the country, parts of central were only accessible through dinghies, and housing developments in Oropune Gardens, Piarco and Greenvale, La Horquetta were submerged in at least five feet of water, affecting well over 500 families.
Parts of the Uriah Butler Highway were closed to traffic heading both north and south. Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith called out all available officers. Sangre Grande and communities as far as Matelot also saw extreme flooding.
Some stranded people had to be removed from the roofs of their homes, where they fled to escape the rising waters. Citizens were hailed as heroes for stepping up and helping in any way they could, either joining rescue efforts or providing food, clothing and, in some cases, shelter. Schools were used as shelters as well as community centres. One shelter, in Sangre Grande, had to be abandoned after it too was flooded.
Despite the devastation, there were no confirmed reports of loss of life: not even animals were reported to have died in the flooding.
Communications Minister Stuart Young dispelled rumours that there were fatalities at a media briefing after his aerial viewing of the flooded areas early yesterday morning. He called on the public not to spread distorted information.
Speaking with the media at Greenvale, La Horquetta, the Prime Minister said: “It is a national disaster. It is quite widespread and severe, and it will take a lot of money to fix.
“In the Greenvale area virtually every house have been affected. One of my household staff this morning lost everything, and her family is at a shelter.”
Rowley, who toured Sangre Grande, central Trinidad and La Horquetta, was supported by Local Government Minister Kazim Hosein and Works and Transport Minister Rohan Sinanan.
He added that all government agencies were available to those in need and those outside the flood will bring relief to those in the flood. As the water subsides, he said, the damage will be assessed and relief given to those in need, as he is confident that all is being done on a governmental level. He dismissed those who sough to politicise the natural disaster, saying, “Some people’s life is politics.”
Reports of flooding began circulating on Friday night and since then citizens and state officials have waded, boated and even swum through waist-high waters to rescue as many as possible. As the water subsided in La Horquetta, the run-off flooded parts of St Helena and Kelly Village, forcing home owners onto their roofs.
Rowley said, “Right now we are concentrating on those who have been flooded and to ensure that those taken to shelters have adequate cots, blankets and food supplies.” He added that the flooding is the worst people have seen in the respective areas and another day of rain was expected.
Also speaking with the media was Sinanan, who said the issue was not a lack of drainage but that the volume of water was too much for the tributaries and the Caroni River to absorb.
“No amount of engineering can save you from this downpour,” Sinanan said, adding that the country just has to live with the fact that such disaster “will happen from time to time.”
Rowley said earlier, however, that there is a need for drainage, particularly in the Greenvale and Oropune areas. Communities that are close to rivers will be exposed to flooding when there is excessive rain, he acknowledged. Asked about relocating people, Rowley said the issue was bigger than just relocating, as that brings another problem, of allocating the affected families, and when they leave, other families will be willing to move into the areas currently affected.
“Greenvale was always exposed to this kind of flooding in this kind of weather. It may happen once every ten or 20 years. I know for a fact that there is drainage improvement that must take place in and around Greenvale, and that we have to do that. There are things we can do, if not to eliminate, mitigate the flooding,” the PM said.
Also speaking with the media during a Greenvale tour separate from the PM’s was Education Minister Anthony Garcia, who said school social workers and guidance counsellors were sent to various shelters to offer counselling to traumatised flood victims. He said health care providers will also visit the shelters.