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Families still in shelter after last month’s floods
David Cemento and his family have been displaced for the last six weeks, since western Trinidad was flooded by heavy rainfall last month. They have given up any hope of moving on with their lives and now refer to the Diego Martin Community Centre, Diamond Vale, the shelter they stay in as “the land of the forgotten.”
They also refer to themselves as “the people that time forgot.” In an interview, Cemento said he did not know what the next move would be for him, his wife, their daughter and his seven-year-old-grandson. Cemento, 48, said his grandson, who he did not want to be named, had not started school as yet because the family did not have the money to pay for his transport and uniforms.
This is the second shelter at which the family has stayed. After the disaster they moved into the La Seiva shelter. Cemento said his house was hanging precariously on the edge of a hill in Winter Gardens, Saut D’Eau Road, Maraval. He said it did not make sense for them to move back into the house as any heavy rainfall or a landslide could have brought it crashing down. He said he has not been offered any grant from the Government and felt he would be wasting money trying to repair the house which was a “lost cause.”
He said a post in the centre had been carried off by the landslide which took place after the heavy rains. Cemento believes the position he has taken to try and get the best for his family had led to their being victimised by the authorities who were supposed to be helping. One official, he said, had given them three options: He explained: “He said either we go to the media, pack up and move out or wait until whenever John (HDC’s managing director Jearlean John) finds a solution."
Cemento said he was warned that every time he complained to the media of his family’s plight they would be taking “15 steps backwards” from receiving any type of help. The family, he said, shared one room with three cots. Before the flood Cemento worked with BK Holdings driving trucks but has not been able to work because he refused to leave his family alone at the shelter. He said that was the time his family needed his support the most.
Another occupant of the centre, who asked not to be identified, said the people who shared the living accommodation had now turned on each other in frustration. “They are always accusing each other of holding back progress for getting assistance,” she added. She said she wondered if Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar knew what was going in the shelter and if anyone in the country still cared about their plight.
Cemento claimed he had seen a lot of unfairness in the distribution of hampers and other relief items from the public. “There was a time that they brought in about 80 hampers and $5,000 in grocery vouchers. I was one of the people who helped them pack up the boxes in a van and we never saw the groceries,” he added. At the shelter they received free lunches but depended on the kindness of people who gave them food for breakfast and dinner, he said.
He was thankful that the Office of Disaster Preparedness Management (ODPM) had not abandoned the shelter. “We are not asking for any handouts. Why would we want to stay here? We just want some help to be relocated, because we know that our houses cannot be repaired,” he said. Cemento also said several Government officials told him his house had been abandoned before the floods.
At his home in Maraval, Cemento pointed out the new galvanise sheets which he changed on his roof. The chairs in the gallery and the curtains in all the rooms were evidence his family once made the place a happy home. An administrator at the shelter, who did not wish to be named, said he was well aware of the situation and his heart was saddened as he continued to watch the people at the shelter suffer and take out their frustrations on each other.
There are about six families who live at the shelter. Included in this are seven children whose ages range from one to 12. None of them has gone to school since the start of the new term. He said he was aware of some families who spent just about two weeks there before being relocated and questioned what were the criteria that the families who are still in the shelter did not meet. The families who live in the shelter said they believed they were now a lost cause and their only hope was that someone would hear their ordeal and help out.
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