When the the deluge of turpid water invaded my house a week ago, I had no idea how I was going to begin cleaning up. The flood waters left behind a nightmare, robbing my neighbours and I of sentimental items, tens of thousands of dollars worth of personal belongings and leaving us in utter despair.
Question were furiously swirling around in my head and playing a number on my amygdala—the part of the brain that helps to store and classify emotionally charged memories and plays a key role in emotions, especially fear. What if Jared, my four-year-old son, had been at home at the time? Will I ever get rid of the billions of germs lurking in the place that my family considered our refuge? How, when, where, why, who, could, should...? Fortunately Jared was at my sister’s house, for his numerous questions would have compounded matters.
With water-soaked and mud-caked furniture, appliances, VAT inclusive foodstuff, toys, books and other things strewn around in a gigantic pool of slush, my neighbours and I stood by and helplessly looked at the years of our hard work that had been destroyed and tossed haphazardly aside in a matter of minutes. The culprit was the nearby, usually genteel and fun Caura river, which suddenly broke its bank on the afternoon of October 12, crept into the neighbourhood, wreaked its havoc and subsided just as quickly.
And while all the knowledge of what to do before, during and after a natural disaster was lodged somewhere in my brain, at that time trying to retreive the information and act on it was an exercise in futility. The enveloping darkness, rain, zig zagging flashes of lightening and bellowing thunder didn’t help much. Fortunately my neighbours and I had an abundance of compassionate, quick-thinkers who relieved us of that burden.
With assistance from my soulmate, Joel, neighbour Barry and his two sons, the ‘white’ shift from the Tunapuna Fire Station, led by officer Gerald McIntosh began the task of washing the slush from the street, the insides of our homes and our front yards. McIntosh was even so kind as to wash the mud off my feet, several times. Eventually that shift was seamlessly relieved by the ‘blue’ shift, headed by sub station officer Sooknanan. The men continued with the clean-up operation until the unit had run out of water.
Meanwhile, other neighbours offered support in different ways. Helen, kept us warm with coffee and Tricia graciously allowed us to use her gallery and garage as a refuge from the rain. Radio DJ Sensational Sammy, whose cousin was also affected by the flood, ensured that the members of the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Management were on the scene before he left for work. And his wife Kimmy, what can I say but thank you for the laughs at a time when we just felt like ‘holding we heads and bawl’.
It wasn’t long before councillor for the Tunapuna/Piarco region Prakash Barath arrived with his team. After surveying the damage and offering whatever immediate assistance we needed, he advised us to make a list, after the clean-up, of everything we had lost in order to file a claim for damages. Officer Sooknanan instructed us to call T&TEC to deal with the electrical issues - a thought that had never crossed our already cluttered minds.
I immediately called my uncle Lennox, who works at T&TEC. Within ten minutes of that call a member of an emergency crew called me for my address, and the men were on the scene less than 45 minutes later. Led by Clive Harradan, the electrical experts returned power to only the lights, advising that we shouldn’t turn on the power to the wall outlets until an electrician had checked and deemed them safe to use. A Cepep crew was commissioned by officials at the Tunapuna/Piarco Regional Co-operation to sanitise the inside of our homes, but since there was no water in the taps there was not much it could do.
It wasn’t until the next morning that the grave reality of the situation hit me. My home, which I always try to keep clean and comfortable, looked like a scene from movie. It was then that I called my mom Norma, held my head and bawled. But not for long, for Joel and my colleague and friend, T&T Guardian’s photo journalist Andre Alexander had already taken to the back yard with spades. In no time they had cleared out all the slush there. A truck borne supply of water from WASA completed the job.
Meanwhile, my two brothers Kenrick and Devon, who were awakened from their beds by my mom and ordered to the scene arrived and began to try to bring some order to the house. Mark, my brother-in-law came with his electrician friend, Nigel in tow, followed by my aunt Justina, her husband Tessie and son Micky. That afternoon when Councillor Barath returned to see how the clean-up operation was progressing, he dared to ask me if I had to pay my workmen/women.
“Not everything is about money councillor. My family and friends have come out to lend their support in my time of need,” I responded with a smile and heart swelling with appreciation. By the time my colleague and friend Bernadette Williams arrived the team had already decided to call it a day, but her mood-lightening manner was welcomed.
Early the following morning she was at my door armed with mops, bucket, cleaning products and a baby sitter - her three-year-old daughter Rebecca, who kept Jared out of my hair while we worked. Bernadette, my mom, aunty Justine and I made magic that day. However, I was overly concerned about the overcast skies. The questions resumed their swirl dance in my had head - silent torture. They were somewhat silenced by the arrival of the Regional corporation’s Carol Charles and her colleague bearing gifts of sandbags. While Jared chatted her up and invited her to “stay by us,” her colleague generously put the bags in place for me.
On October 15 my neighbours and I went to the corporation office to file our claims, expecting the procedure to be quite unpleasant, given past experiences with public servants. Imagine my surprise when I found out that Charles, my potential daughter-in-law, was the person we had to see. She patiently guided us through the process and before long we were on our way to continue with the task of trying to repair and restore our homes. The following day she turned up on or doorsteps with members of the Red Cross offering their assistance.
Disasters are always unpleasant and traumatising. It will take time for us replace our things, and the slightest drizzle could send us into panic mode. But I think I speak for all my affected neighbours when I say we’re in an okay place emotionally because of the overwhelming support we received. So, on behalf of the flood victims of Eden Court, Paradise Gardens, Tacarigua I say thank you to all who supported us, physically and otherwise.