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Journey through the Junction: Patience, frustration and apprehension

BY HG HELPS Editor-at-Large helpsh@jamaicaobserver.com

Friday, October 26, 2012    

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HURRICANE Sandy was rough on sections of St Mary. Residents of the north-eastern Jamaica parish would argue with no one on that matter.

So after several phone calls to the Jamaica Observer about conditions that existed there after Sandy got so upset, the newspaper's team was off on that treacherous journey to a parish that once ruled the regional banana production kingdom.

We left Kingston around 8:30 am yesterday, quite open-minded about what should be expected along the journey by way of the popular Junction Road, which links St Mary to Kingston and St Andrew. By the time the adventure flipped to chapter two at Stony Hill in West Rural St Andrew, the signs were ominous that the stories being told about disaster in the Castleton Gardens area and nearby sections of the parish were spot on.

The curious were on the road as the Observer-branded VW Amarok rolled into Golden Spring. Further down the road, single-lane traffic characterised the trail.

And then ... aah business! The first major roadblock was there, staring everyone in the face. At Temple Hall, a huge concrete Jamaica Public Service Company utility pole spread across the road like a drunk who had been lodged against a grass patch as he struggled to get the last pint in.

It took men from the area to cut off some of the offending wires and then action from our tour leader — a front-end loader — which carted the object out of the road with little hassle.

Like Christian soldiers marching as to war, the procession from the first traffic pile-up moved progressively to Castleton Gardens — and beyond, if possible.

Several more roadblocks stalled the journey, before the travellers got to the border of St Andrew and St Mary at Tom's River.

However, close to the border emerged the horrific picture of a breadfruit tree falling smack onto the house of an elderly man, damaging a section of the roof and smashing the body of the dwelling.

There was no oncoming traffic for miles, a situation which raised questions about the sensibility of taking the journey in the first place.

But wait! Three men on motorbikes emerged from nowhere, riding in the opposite direction past the line of patient people.

"It jam up dung dey so. Me nuh know way oonu a go," one shouted.

"A pure roadblock dung a road dey so. Oonu naa get through fi now. It block right dung to Castleton," another bellowed.

Finally, the border was in sight. It was now 9:58 am — an almost 90-minute journey that would take 30 minutes under normal circumstances.

Then the inevitable — another 'must' stop to allow the tractor to clear one more fallen tree from the road.

The arrival at the border ushered in another unwelcome deterrent — mosquitoes. They were out for blood, and seemingly had a fascination for people's heads, especially those devoid of hair.

Onward again the train rolled. Frantic attempts to make cellular phone calls on the two networks proved problematic.

'No service', or 'Searching for Network' dominated the screens for several miles. Intermittently thereafter, the occasional text message could be sent, or a call made.

Karamba! Yet another unwelcome obstacle — rain — shortly after 10 o'clock. You could hear the groans as people waited for the tractor to effect another clearance: Here we go again!

As the convoy approached Castleton Gardens, it became an established fact that a major clean-up exercise was the only way out. The entire place was a mess.

Debris littered both sides of the Junction main road... traffic crawled into the village known for a botanical gardens of the same name — one with plants and trees that can be found nowhere else in the world.

Much of those were damaged, if not destroyed.

Then came another stern warning:

"Oonu can't pass down there so, the whole a di road bruk way," one youth shouted out.

"About how long you think them will take to fix it?" a mature woman heading to Western St Mary enquired.

"Dat naw fix fi now... the whole a di road chop off," he responded.

"We a go dung dey still," another motorist shouted.

"Den oonu no can gwaan. Oonu ears too hard, gwaan go mek Sandy box you up," the youth answered.

By 10:35 am, the union of adventurous travellers lined up along the stretch of road in the vicinity of the Castleton Gardens Police Station. Nothing moved for over an hour. Why?

The small matter of a gaping hole in the right side of the road just past the police station was there to be dealt with.

Several turned expert road patcher and advisor.

"See it dey, we can pass over it," one said.

"Who, nobody naa drive me over that, as soon as one vehicle drive over it, it a go bruk way," another said.

"But wait, a so dis ya hole ya big, man? Dis naa fix fi now," yet another stated.

Two JPS workers, part of the determined travellers group, braved it all by going across, even before any filling of the hole took place.

The tractor was busy again. The mission: to fill the breakaway, that hollow section underneath, with as much debris as possible — chopped-up wood, stones, dirt, they were all there in abundance.

In the meantime, member of parliament Dr Winston Green met the crew from the other side. He had a famous 'bully' beef and bread story to tell.

The veteran dentist had spent the night in his car about a mile down the road, as another roadblock kept him in check.

He survived off the generosity of an old woman who gave him a mug of the good old chocolate tea, and the goodness of a National Baking Company van operator who had no alternative but to roll out the dough, as he, too, was trapped overnight.

Dr Green's main worry, apart from not being able to use his cellular phone, appeared to be the damage inflicted on the banana, plantain and coconut plantations.

Livestock, too, had been badly affected. People's roofs were destroyed, he said, warranting a full-scale assessment as soon as he is back on firm footing.

There was no worry that if anyone got sick, first aid, at least, could not be his salvation.

Senior medical officer of health at the Annotto Bay Hospital, and senior surgeon Dr Ray Fraser, fresh from receiving his national honour of Order of Distinction, Commander Class, held court with his staff members — Dr Glenton Strachan, consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist; and Dr Kurdell Espinosa, emergency medicine physician; but orthopaedic surgeon Dr Derrick McDowell of the St Ann's Bay Hospital seemed to have got in more words in the four-member pow wow.

At least the intervention of Attorney General Patrick Atkinson, who tried to reach Trelawny by way of that route, was not sought.

Castleton Gardens resident Tamara Ivy, a 23-year-old mother of one, related how she videotaped much of the Sandy party.

"I saw a lot — the breeze was very strong, trees were falling, the river was getting higher and it was raining non-stop," said Ivy, who has to cross the Wag Water River to get home.

Then came a celebration of sorts. The tractor finally managed to fill gaps in the torn underground. Some shouted, others clapped, a majority raced to their vehicles.

Minibus operators, not known to show signs of patience and discipline, acted true to form in cutting the queue.

Gingerly, the vehicles passed over the breakaway and the journey into the unknown continued.

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