Brink of disaster

Brink of disaster

'We are going to lose our homes,' Harbour Heights residents cry

Senior staff reporter

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

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Residents of Harbour Heights in East Kingston are making a desperate appeal for the authorities to correct an engineering flaw which, they say, has endangered their community over the past six years and has worsened since the outer bands of two tropical storms dumped heavy rain on the island between October and November, leaving them tottering on the brink of disaster.

According to the residents, some 12 homes in the community — nestled between Caribbean Cement Company on one end and Harbour View on the other — are exposed to a gaping gully after the recent rains dislodged their backyards, sweeping away clothes lines and fruit trees.

Now, each time dark clouds gather in the sky they shudder in fear as they contemplate their fate from a problem that, they insist, is not of their own making.

“About seven years ago, the then Government decided to do some renovation in the community, and so they came in for about a year and they did some changes in the community to rehabilitate the community. As a result, they had rechannelled water which was affecting Harbour View through another channel, and that change has been causing devastation, not just to our house but to a number of other houses right along that channel. So people are being affected,” homeowner Ralston Ricketts shared during a recent interview on virtual talk show Heart to Heart.

Ricketts said the changes were made despite protests from residents who were of the opinion at the time that the method used by the authorities was doomed to fail.

“The then Government channelled the water from another direction and they were supposed to have built a gully. They started to build the gully and then they changed the plan to something different by just laying some stones along the channel. Persons protested to say it wouldn't work, but we were told that this was what the engineers put forward,” he claimed.

“The first time the rains fell, about six years ago, all of those stones washed away, and from that time until now it has been getting deeper and deeper,” Ricketts added.

According to information accessed by the Jamaica Observer, in 2012 the community was indeed slated to be the first to benefit from a pilot landslide mitigation project to be implemented by the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM). The Jamaica Landslide Risk Reduction Project, as it was named, was being financed by a US$2.37-million grant from the Japanese Social Development Fund, an affiliate of the World Bank, and was to cover four communities over a three-year period, beginning with Harbour Heights.

According to ODPEM at the time, Harbour Heights, a former Operation Pride (Programme for Resettlement and Integrated Development Enterprise) settlement, was chosen because it met the criterion of a compact settlement with residents at risk and vulnerable.

The mitigation project should have included the plotting [with the aid of GPS (global positioning system) technology and local 'lay-of-the-land' knowledge], outlining and erecting of a series of drains, gutters, channels and rainwater harvesting strategies that would act as natural hazard intervention techniques.

According to the residents, work had indeed begun under the project, and would have been successful had it been completed in the terms the stated scope.

Now, Ricketts said residents have been waiting for the authorities to “make some move”, but they are not sure how much time they have before what is left of their investments plummet into the gully.

“We are at a critical stage. We went to church [some Sundays ago] and on the way back home I was stopped and told that a part of the back of my yard was washed away. When I came and looked, I was looking into a gully about 12 feet deep. All the trees had washed away in a few hours and it is now endangering the houses. If we don't build a retaining wall, the next rains that come will damage the house,” Ricketts, a minister of religion, said.

His spouse Yvonne said appeals made to Member of Parliament Phillip Paulwell are yet to yield any fruit.

“He told me he is in discussion with the National Works Agency about a permanent solution, and he said it is urgent. But I spoke to him from September — a couple days before we had that heavy rain — and we keep getting promises, but nothing is being done. If they don't respond right now we are going to lose our homes,” she stated.

The couple said, while some of their neighbours have used their own resources to make temporary retaining structures, they have been unable to do so because of lack of finances. For the moment, they said, they have been winging it on prayer and faith.

“Every time it is overcast we fear. We have to be praying and asking the Lord to hold the rain... We have to be praying that the rain does not fall in this vicinity — anywhere else, but not here. We need the water, but at this moment we have to be asking God to withhold the rain because of the impact it will have if there is another heavy shower,” Ricketts said.

Roads in the community, which are in need of urgent repairs, are also another point of concern he said, noting: “If there is any major event people will not be able to access certain services outside the community.”

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