The heavy downpour that fell on the North-West peninsula was unusually robust, despite assurances from the meteorological office that the rainfall was not out of the ordinary for this time of the year. Meteorologists suggested that the ocean's high tide might have made it difficult for the rain water to flow out to sea. It may be that the actual number of inches of rain is standard, but it fell heavily and fast and challenged the capacity of rivers and drainage systems to manage the water that came rushing through St James, Diego Martin, Cocorite, Woodbrook, Dibe and Maraval. Debris came along with the flood waters, which broke the banks of the Maraval rivers bringing flood waters that were reported to rise higher than four feet in some areas, leaving behind bricks, logs, rubbish and mud and a surprising swath of destruction in a remarkably short time.
A house collapsed in Dibe, St James, cars were washed into river courses and part of the retaining wall built around the Country Club in Maraval as part of the restructuring of traffic flows there came crashing down. Waterlogged earth was believed to have pushed the recently constructed wall apart and into electrical poles which had to be repaired by teams from the Trinidad and Tobago Electricity Commission. Repairs to the wall were estimated by Works Minister Jack Warner to cost more than $2 million, though the damage to the wall was being lauded by government officials as having saved properties across the road from the club from even greater damage.
A few hours after the wall collapsed, the Ministry of Works had begun demolishing the affected areas of the wall and removing it. Well into the night on Saturday, traffic heading east out of Diego Martin and Glencoe remained in gridlock, crawling past cleanup works being conducted on the northern lane of the Western Main Road in Cocorite as work crews with backhoes, police officers and firemen attempted to remove the rivers of mud that had flowed down into the roadway. To their credit, the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Management mobilised quickly at critical sites and opened a shelter at the North Diego Martin Community Centre for people unable to return to their homes. Chairman of the Diego Martin Regional Corporation, Anthony Sammy, declared Diego Martin Central, Maraval and Westmoorings emergency areas after seeing the results the flooding.
According to the ODPM chief executive Dr Stephen Ramroop, Local Government, the Works Ministry, CEPEP, the Unemployment Relief Programme (URP) and the First Engineering Battalion of the Regiment were mobilised to work on the clearing of roads and drains after the scale of the disaster became apparent. Thankfully, Minister of Works Jack Warner moved the questions about the collapsed Maraval Road wall from (the predictable but tied) political jibes to the larger issue of unregulated development and the ensuing increase in runoff that has led, particularly in Port-of-Spain and its suburbs, to sharp increases in flood waters threatening property and lives.
It's clear that managing the situation that the country faces in 2011 will have to proceed along two paths: one preventive as city planners more fully engage the consequences of development that takes place with no regard for harmony with the realities of our infrastructure and environment, and the other remedial, dealing with the capacities of our watercourses to handle the realities of today's greater water capacities after even a relatively short period of rain fall.
While there have been some improvements in the clearing of watercourses and the critical response times of the ODPM to areas that have been substantially hit by natural disaster, there remains room for improvement and continuing monitoring of these long standing matters of national safety and disaster response. But these issues will only continue to grow more dangerous if the root problem at the core of these drainage failures isn't addressed, the rapid development of land that once captured rain that now runs into drainage systems that were never designed to capture and safely route that kind of water flow.