Ibis Gardens residents beg for help to repair collapsed Caroni embankment

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Residents of Ibis Gardens, Caroni gather on the Caroni river bank to show how much of it has fallen in on Friday. – Darren Bahaw

Vishanna Phagoo

The drop in water levels of the Caroni River, at Ibis Gardens, has revealed the extend of erosion and residents fear if left untouched the next heavy shower will spell disaster for the entire community.

A significant portion of the southern embankment has collapsed into the riverbed after torrential rains over the last few days and with more rain forecast over the weekend residents fear the worst.

Andre Ramsahai, who lives a few houses away from the potential disaster at Jacobin Drive, said: “The real issue for me comes is if there is heavy rainfalls because then that’s it, I would be done.”

Right now, the bank only has around 18 inches of reinforcement left and Ramsahai said if heavy rainfall continues, the entire bank will be gone.

Personnel from the Housing Development Corporation visited on Saturday to survey the damage and one official said emergency works are necessary to protect the community of over 150 families, some of whom live in one-storey houses.

Ramsahai said the situation could have been avoided if the authorities had addressed their reports made two months ago when the first signs of weakness of the embankment occurred.

“A couple months ago we started seeing the river bank collapsing into the water so we indicated it to the relevant authorities. We spoke to the Ministry of Works and Transport and the reason for not showing up is always the same, there’s no funding.”

He said on Friday, representatives from the ministry visited the area and one official told him that there is nothing that can be done until the ministry acquires more funds for the repairs.

“I told the representative that was not an option because it have no way I could recover from the damage that I am going to experience.”

The collapsed embankment of the Caroni River at Ibis Gardens, Caroni which has sparked fear and concern among the residents on Saturday after the water levels dropped. – Darren Bahaw

Ramsahai, who is the owner of A&N Auto Centre, said if the conditions do not improve he isn’t sure what will happen to his equipment as they cannot be easily moved to higher grounds. He said if the river bank bursts and the water rushes to his home, there would be no way to protect his hydraulic ramps, compressors or generators and his business could be destroyed.

Another resident took it upon himself to make everyone in the area aware of the imminent danger by going door-to-door and showing them videos and pictures of the depleted river bank. He said it was alarming that 20-feet of river bank became 18 inches overnight and the residents must be aware of it.

Jerome Moses said, “If nothing is done to restore the bank, they (the residents) wouldn’t just be flooded out, they would have to go up on the roof.”

He said there would be no protection between the residents and that volume of water. Moses said everyone in the area has been calling the ministry and other relevant agencies, but no one could never relay their concerns.

“Every time you call, they give us another number to someone who is in charge of whichever department and so on but no help. Nobody seems to do anything, it’s like the people in charge of drainage, rivers and waterways in the country are not in charge any more. I don’t know what it is.”

Moses expressed his frustration and urged the residents to understand that if the conditions remain the same, lives will be in danger and treading the water will not be an option.

Chaguanas West MP Dinesh Rambally reassured residents that he is in talks with Works and Transport Minister Rohan Sinanan, Minister of Local Government and Rural Development Faris Al-Rawi and the councillors and chairman of the Tunapuna/Piarco Regional Corporation.

“I am in real-time communication with all of them concerning what has taken place so what I expect and hoping is that the permanent fixtures can get going as early as Monday morning with some remedial steps along the old Caroni River. This is so we don’t have that breach as it was the key source of the large flow and volume of water coming into the village.”

He said he also expects to see the flood slabs along the river wall fixed as that also contributed to the overflowing in the breached areas. Rambally said the work should be completed by Wednesday as it only requires placing 12 to 15 loads of backfill along the river. In addition to building back the river bank, he said the corporation will be working on expanding the outflow drain which is along New Street, Caroni.

On Saturday morning, he and councillor Richard Rampersad were distributing cleaning supplies and drinking water before any major clean-ups can take place.

“The corporation gave me the assurance that it will be deploying a minimum of two cesspool trucks. What will happen is the trucks will go to the homes that were greatly affected try to extract the permitted amount of water,” he said.

Rambally urged residents to understand that it is not “business as usual” when it comes to flooding in Caroni and said people need to be proactive in flood prevention.

“We also need to take certain steps in ensuring that certain homes are fully aware of what is expected of them so that they can implement the necessary evacuation measures.”

Sunday Newsday tried contacting Sinanan and the private contractor Vigai Persad, who had been asked by the ministry to assess the site on Friday, for comments but all attempts were unsuccessful.