WHENEVER it rains, residents of Greenvale Park, La Horquetta are driven into panic mode. They monitor weather patterns regularly, riverine alerts are their main source of information and weather forecasts to them, is top news.
Today marks one year since many of the residents lost their Housing Development Corporation (HDC) homes thanks to what the meteorological office said was a month’s worth of rainfall in two days. While their houses stand to this day, over 400 families lost their homes. Since October last year, Greenvale has not been home but the place they are forced to live. But what has been life after the flood in Greenvale?
“One year later, still feels like yesterday,” one resident told Sunday Newsday. “HDC say we good. Come sleep in Greenvale when the rain falls and tell us how comfortable you are after” Another said “Greenvale is not inhabited by animals! Is humans who have feelings.”
“If anyone said to me this area is known for flooding, if older folks who lived in the area since they young had said before hand, we use to go there and fish, I would have never signed any paper. I would (have) said keep it, but we never got that chance, so they can't say we did, I wasn't given the chance in case they told someone else” said a third resident.
One of the residents called on the Government to do better adding that they will “pay for their recklessness and wicked actions.” Another said Greenvale is for “frogs, fish and caiman.”
“You have no idea how petrified I get whenever rain falls or there is a yellow alert. When tropical storm Karen was here, I packed a bag and moved because I didn’t want to be around,” one woman told us. She lost all her belongings except her car since it was parked elsewhere during the flood.
She added that it is a psychological nightmare living in the area and hearing of rain, or worse hearing raindrops dancing on her roof. To her weather alerts are life and death situations.
Her comments echoed that of Shernelle Boney-Joseph, a nurse who lost her new vehicle along with everything in her home. She recalled swimming through what smelled like sewage about five feet high, to get away from the flood.
“I have become somewhat of a meteorologist, she said. “I have studied it and learned all the terms. I have stuff in boxes that I am afraid to take out. Whenever rain falls, I get calls from family and friends offering help.”
Insurance agencies refusing coverage
After losing all her belongings, including a Toyota Aqua she bought in August last year, Boney-Joseph said her insurance company not only refused to insure her new vehicle, but her appliances as well. After returning to her original insurance dealer for coverage of her new car, Boney-Joseph was denied coverage based on her location.
“They said they not insuring anyone from Greenvale,” she related. “I went to three other insurance companies and all of them said the same thing from the time I mentioned where I from.”
The lack of empathy from insurance companies was not limited to Boney-Joseph as other residents also lamented the difficulties they endured in securing insurance for their vehicles.
One man said he was sent a letter via registered mail from his insurance company revoking his coverage following the flood. Other residents said after losing their vehicles it felt like another blow to their recovery. Having to now navigate the insurance landscape for a problem not caused by them.
Cost of repairs
Moving on since the flood has been expensive, both mentally and financially. The Ministry of Social Development gave out cheques to flood victims ranging between $15,000 and $20,000 depending on whether or not the tenants had children. Newsday emailed the Ministry in June to get a final cost for the cheques distributed but to date has received no response.
In March, Social Development Minister Cherrie-Ann Crichlow-Cockburn told the Senate that 18 people were charged with fraudulently receiving relief cheques. HDC also unearthed a few Greenvale “residents” who were not on their official records who also received cheques after homes they were occupying illegally illegally were flooded.
The monies spent by the Ministry of Works and Transport remain a mystery as well, after emails sent to the ministry requesting that information have gone unanswered since September. In April, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley along with Housing Minister Edmund Dillon and Works and Transport Minister Rohan Sinanan and HDC officials toured Greenvale to assess ongoing work.
Last month, at the ceremonial opening of the Manuel Congo bridge, off the Tumpuna Road, Sinanan said dredging and rehabilitative works on the Caroni River have allowed the river to increase the capacity "to three times what it was before.” Greenvale borders on the Manuel Congo and Caroni Rivers.
In an emailed response to Sunday Newsday, HDC said they spent $63,030,443 on flood relief. This money includes repairs to affected homes, response efforts which included clean-up and other mitigating works.
Moving on or moving out?
According to the HDC, since the flooding, nine homeowners have requested relocation. “However, a policy decision was taken not to entertain any requests due to the fact that the HDC has implemented a number of mitigation initiatives which were expected to minimise the severe effects of any flooding in the community.”
HDC was also asked if they are satisfied with the work done to ensure there would be no more flooding and that Greenvale would be better equipped to handle such a disaster again. In response HDC said: “Before the start of the hurricane season the HDC implemented a number of mitigation initiatives in Greenvale Park. These include the raising of the containment berm to fully surround the community; raising of the berm and culvert, crossing the eastern access road; raising the roadways surrounding the community and constructing a road to connect La Horquetta South and Greenvale Park, which will be used an alternative exit route for residents. Work is currently underway on the construction and installation of an automated flood pumping station to ensure increased and more reliable pumping capacity at the detention ponds.”
HDC managing director Brent Lyons, in his hope to comfort residents, said he understood their unease adding that was the main reason HDC sought to complete the majority of the mitigation works by June 1, the beginning of the hurricane season.
Some of the residents have not been comforted by any of the work done by the state and have initiated a lawsuit. In their pre-action protocol letter, 81 residents accused HDC of being negligent and breaching its duty. According to the 19-page document, the HDC was reckless and in breach of its statutory duty in constructing the development on the flood plains of the Caroni River and did not inform them that they were getting homes in a flood prone area. The residents did not say how much they hoped to get from the HDC but are willing to discuss a settlement.
In response to the residents’ letter, HDC denied being reckless, negligent or breaching its duty to homeowners. HDC’s attorneys say residents accepted the units with the full knowledge that they were constructed on what is well known as the Caroni plain.
Greenvale in a nutshell
Greenvale was built in a known flood prone area despite concerns. In 2005, under the People’s National Movement (PNM) Town and Country Planning Division gave permission to develop the land and work began in 2007. In 2008, the Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA) gave “outline approval” along with the fire department.
On June 26, 2009, the division wrote to the HDC a “notice of refusal” on the grounds that the area was a floodplain of the Caroni River and that no development should take place there, but by this time houses had already been constructed.
On October 27, 2011, under the People’s Partnership (PP), HDC wrote to Town and Country telling them they had surveyed the area and made some suggestions that would mitigate flooding which included retention ponds, an embankment and installing pumps. On November 17, 2014, Town and Country granted approval to HDC to continue the project on the condition that the suggestions to mitigate flooding would be implemented. This was done.
The initial project was supposed to have been in five phases but phases four and five, which up to 2014 were not yet developed, were completely abandoned. Phases one and two were completed in 2014 and the third phase was finished in 2015. In September 2015, the PP demitted office following the general election.
Distribution of homes took place from 2014 to 2016. The three phases were completed at a cost of $336 million which included the cost of retention ponds, pumps and embankments. Phases one and two were constructed by Motilal Ramhit and Sons Contracting Limited while phase three was done by Trinity Housing.
Following the flooding, a hydrological report was ordered by Rowley; “to determine why Greenvale was so heavily impacted and to determine what, if anything, can be done in terms of physical works to interfere with the drainage system, if not eliminate, but to ameliorate and bring greater comfort to those persons who live in that area.”
The findings of that report have not been made public, if at all completed.
Later, in October last year during a post flooding ceremony to receive 100 doors, HDC chairman Newman George said a contact for a comprehensive hydrological report was awarded to Alpha Engineering on November 6, 2017. The contract was to provide drainage design consultancy. Alpha’s recommendations were sent to HDC on October 18, the day before the floods. The details of the recommendation were not disclosed, but George then said it will be implemented sometime this year.
George said then that HDC knew there were some problems in the area and was trying to rectify the issue since 2017.