EVEN before the last nail was driven into the two-bedroom house Karen White-Cassie was already occupying the structure as she tried to escape the misery of living in a hurricane shelter with her 12-year-old daughter and husband, nearly three months after losing the roof over their heads in the passage of Hurricane Sandy.
The family who was forced to welcome the new year under the less than desirable conditions in the Manchioneal Community Centre in Portland was only too happy to finally have a space that they did not have to share with fellow residents who also spent several weeks at the storm shelter.
“We was so happy to be in we own house that when we move in we still put up we Christmas tree fi me daughter, even though Christmas gone long time,” White-Cassie told the Jamaica Observer North East.
So desperate were they to leave the shelter, White-Cassie said the workmen were forced to paint the house with them already in it.
“The man (construction worker) ah say “ah unu look like unu really want ah house,” she recounted.
When the Observer North East visited last week, bathroom fixtures and a water tank were not yet installed and neither was the sewerage pit completed, but not even that could dampen the spirits of the family members who had already started to put their personal touch to the dwelling.
White-Cassie’s rented house was one of several homes which were destroyed, when the category one system wreaked havoc on the north-eastern end of the island.
However, months after the majority of the residents had left the shelter, White-Cassie and her family were unable to leave as they had nowhere to go, this as the landlord of the property they were renting before the storm, was not willing to effect repairs to the damaged house.
With the looming threat of the shelter closing and them being left without a roof over their heads, the family feared they would faced with being again left homeless.
But hope was restored immediately in October when Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller visited the community to get a first-hand view of the damage left in the wake of the hurricane.
“We decided she was our only hope, and so wi run out in the rain and push to the front until wi reach to her, and then wi tell her wi situation,” she recalled.
On the spot the Prime Minister promised that they would again have a place of their own and this was the best news they could have receive that day.
“She say ‘talk to the councillor (Elaine Osbourne) and you people will get your house,” she recalled.
However, after several anxious weeks of waiting, on January 8 the family was finally handed the keys to their own home in Darlingford, a community which was created under a project by the National Housing Agency to facilitate a number of hurricane victims from as far back as Tropical Storm Gustav in 2008.
“Thank yuh, Portia. I just want to say a big thank you to the prime minister, because if it was not for her we wouldn’t have anywhere to live all ah now,” she said.
“We thank God the day she turn up, because it was such a blessing and that was why it rain so much that day.”
White-Cassie said they would be paying some $650,000 for the land, at yearly payments of approximately $30,000.
Remembering the miserable life she experienced while living with her family in the shelter, White-Cassie said she has already undergone training with the Red Cross so as to able to help others during another disaster.
“Me had to go do the training because no more storm must ever come Jamaica and dem treat people di way how we were treated,” she said, explaining that they were at times deprived of items which were sent for the hurricane victims.
She recalled an incident in which one of the persons overseeing the operations instructed that the crackers and the water not be distributed to them, but be kept for use in another disaster.
White-Cassie said she is now hoping to be able to get some assistance to start a business of her own, as she is no longer able to continue working where she used to, given that her daughter cannot be left alone in this new neighbourhood without the supervision of adults.
“Me just want to get ah start so me can do some buying and selling so I can go out in the days when she at school and come back by the time she gets home,” she said.
But while White-Cassie and her fellow residents are eternally grateful for their own home, they are anxious for the relevant authorities to address the lack of electricity and water in the community.
Residents said two years ago they applied under the Rural Electrification Programme for their homes to be wired, but are yet to receive any word on whether this would be done or a timeline to achieve it.
“The area is in pitch darkness at night and we worried about our safety because is just two weeks ago them rape and kill a girl in the river down the bottom,” a resident said.