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Warner says flooding ‘an act of God’
Indiscriminate cutting of the mountainside in Diego Martin has been blamed for the death of two men in west Trinidad, and the disappearance of two others who are missing after torrential rains and a landslide yesterday. The landslide left a trail of destruction, with businesses, homes, vehicles and roads covered in sludge, water and debris. Walls collapsed, cars overturned, trees toppled, citizens became marooned and traffic came to grinding halt in communities in Maraval, Glencoe, Woodbrook and Diego Martin.
The devastation took place nine months after heavy rainfall wreaked havoc in north Trinidad, causing a $2 million wall in Maraval to collapse and affecting communities in Maraval, La Seiva, Cocorite, St James, Dundonald Hill and Woodbrook. Dead are Solomon Britto, 67, a pensioner from Upper Rich Plain and Everald Bentham, 32, of Upper La Puerta Avenue.
National Security Minister Jack Warner who visited Upper La Puerta minutes after Bentham’s body was found said, “This should not have happened.” Saying he was sorry, Warner said, “Consider it an act of God.” But Warner also attributed the land slippage to “monumental neglect,” insisting that in the two years the Government had been in power, it couldn’t fix everything. Bentham, a PH taxi driver, was buried beneath his house, which came tumbling down in a huge landslip. There were four adults and three children inside.
Everald’s 52-year-old mother, Gloria Bentham, suffered a broken leg, while his pregnant sister Shanice and the other occupants managed to escape unhurt around 6 am. Warner promised to provide the grieving family with a furnished HDC home for the next three months. He told them Minister of Works Emmanuel George would put proper infrastructure in place. Everald’s cousin Leon Bentham said for four years the lands had been slipping and no one addressed the situation. He feared that if the rains continued, two other homes would suffer the same fate.
“I had to dig out Everald like if he was old clothes because of lack of drains and facilities up here,” Leon told Warner. “I found his leg first under the mud and then pulled out his body. It was not a nice experience.” Armed with an umbrella, Diego Martin West MP Dr Keith Rowley, in whose constituency Bentham lived, complained that he did not see “actual hands” to help families who were in distress. At Rich Plain, for five hours villagers searched for Britto until Dion Le Benn found his body pinned in a ravine on the main road.
Using a chainsaw and a backhoe, the Fire Services, the police, the Defence Force, the Diego Martin Regional Corporation, a Search and Rescue team, a Cepep crew and villagers worked to free Britto’s battered body, which was trapped in a mound of debris. Sitting in the tray of a van with tears in his eyes, Britto’s nephew Allan Britto said he was still in shock.
“I saw Uncle just last night. He told me he was going to sleep and he went to bed. I don’t know if he was asleep when the house caved in. Right now, I real frighten because my house is just next door. I believe we will be next.” Having toured the Crystal Stream area, which was covered in sludge and water, Warner admitted that the flooding was worse than the Government had anticipated.
“In Diego Martin, yes. You see we thought about Central. But this never happened in Diego Martin for a long time. I did not believe that the scope of neglect would have been so high. The people should have been taken care of.” One resident of Chuma Monka Avenue in Petit Valley blamed the indiscriminate land cutting for the landslides by developers and squatters.
With mop in hand, he pointed to a recently-cleared area on the hillside, a stone’s throw from a house. “We were flooded out before, but never like this. Now lives are being taken. The Government has to crack down on people who are clearing lands to build houses.”
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