Flooding fear grips St Elizabeth

BY GARFIELD MYERS Editor-at-Large South/Central Bureau myersg@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, October 10, 2010

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SANTA CRUZ, St Elizabeth Residents close to, or within the upper and lower reaches of the Black River Morass were hoping and praying yesterday that heavy rains forecasted for this weekend will in fact stay away or at least stay moderate.

For the most part water levels have subsided over recent days following the passage of Tropical Storm Nicole more than a week ago. But heavy showers in sections of the parish on Friday have boosted the flow of water to the Black River and heightened the fear level.

"Is just the rain is the problem now because you know the place flat, and the way the river behave the water will come down if there is a lot of heavy rain," New River egg farmer Derrick Scott, who suffered "massive" damage as a result of the Nicole rains, told the Sunday Observer by phone.

Scott, said to be one of the biggest egg farmers in western Jamaica, is reporting a loss of about 80 per cent of his 18,000 birds in the latest floods. He declined to put a money figure on his loss yesterday.

Scott is a long-time resident of New River, a community just north of Santa Cruz -- on the edge of the Upper Black River Morass. It is among Jamaica's most flood-prone areas and yesterday Scott reiterated claims from New River residents that the current flooding in that community is "the worst it has been since 1951".

The Santa Cruz main road to New River remains cut off because of water several feet high. Residents of a number of smaller communities either side of New River, including Brighton just off the Santa Cruz bypass road to the north, are also being forced to take circuitous routes to and from the town because of flood waters.

Councillor Stallyn Brown (JLP, Santa Cruz Division) told the Sunday Observer that over 40 families in New River were with neighbours, friends or in approved shelters after flood waters took over their homes. Brown said more than 30 families had been dislocated in communities just off the bypass road.

Word yesterday from the north-west St Elizabeth town of New Market was that the water at the eastern end of the community was continuing to rise, rekindling memories of 1979 when virtually the entire town was covered, forcing an evacuation.

Access roads from New Market to Montego Bay and eastern Westmoreland remain blocked.

The National Works Agency said yesterday that while New Market continued to be of "grave concern" most of the major access routes in the parish that had been inundated a few days ago were now open. Maggotty, in the north, remained a "concern" but the water was said to be "receding" and the access road to northern communities was said to be partially open.

On Friday, the executive of the St Elizabeth Homecoming Foundation toured the parish with chairman of the organisation Donna Parchment pledging to give whatever assistance possible "while not trying to take the place of any authorised body or agency".

Former New York Council Woman Una Clarke accompanied the group on tour and Parchment told the Sunday Observer by phone that "we are hoping to make some sort of Diaspora link".

While expressing consternation at the level of dislocation in people's lives and the considerable agricultural and economic loss, Parchment praised what she called the "resilience" of the people of St Elizabeth who were "quickly getting their lives back together".

Yesterday evening, as rains continued to pound the island, the Meteorological Service upgraded its Flash Flood Watch to a Flash Flood Warning for all parishes until 5:00 pm today.

"An area of low pressure currently across the central Caribbean has been producing unstable weather across Jamaica," the Met Service said in a news release. "This disturbance is expected to linger across the region until Monday and will continue to influence the weather over the island during the period.

"Satellite imagery and radar reports indicate that large areas of moderate to heavy showers with embedded thunderstorms continue to move northward across Jamaica," the Met Service said, adding that the forecast was for continued outbreaks of showers and thunderstorms, especially over southern parishes, through to today.

The Met Service advised motorists and pedestrians against attempting to cross flooded roadways or other low-lying areas as strong currents are likely. "Residents in low-lying areas should be on the alert for rising waters and be ready to move quickly to higher ground," the Met Service said.


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