Brace for flooding
West prepares for hurricane season
The swollen waters of the creek along Creek Street in Montego Bay on Tuesday. Heavy showers routinely transform it into a surging mass of murky water that overflows its banks.

It has become a yearly event. A prolonged and heavy shower of rain overwhelms the drains along Creek Street in Montego Bay and One Stop Auto Complex is buried under mounds of muck.

"Just right now all the mud, dirt, garbage and those things wash down into my business property," a dejected Kemar Mighty told the Jamaica Observer on Tuesday. It sounded eerily familiar to what he said last year and it appears very little has changed since then.

Creek Street is just one of the flood-prone areas within the western city. Swathes of other sections of downtown are also inundated whenever it rains. That's partly because the city's two major drains — the north and south gullies — empty into the front of the town.

Speaking with Observer West about St James' state of readiness for the ongoing hurricane season, deputy mayor of Montego Bay Richard Vernon urged residents to be aware that flooding can occur suddenly. He noted, too, that there is a way they can help protect themselves.

Garbage-strewn drains in Freeport , Montego Bay on Wednesday.

"I want them to pay attention to the flood gauges. We have flood gauges right across the city and they are not ornaments, they are things that you should pay attention to. When the water reaches a certain height… they should take heed and not enter that space," the deputy mayor stressed.

There are flood gauges in Sign Irwin, Albion Road, Orange Street, St James Street, Union Street, William Street, Lower Leaders Avenue, Upper King Street, and Westgate.

Vernon urged motorists, in particular, to be cautious.

With the recent rains, memories of last year's tragic drowning of young Jenell Walters and her grandmother Beryl have resurfaced. Attention is being given to the area in Westgate where they were swept from the vehicle in which they were travelling.

"The inspection of all drains was carried out by the [St James Municipal Corporation's] roads and works department and all are in fair standing with the exception of the one at Westgate," said Councillor Arthur Lynch (Jamaica Labour Party, Montego Bay South Eastern Division). He is chairman of the corporation's disaster preparedness committee.

"We get to understand that there is some bamboo blocking that passageway now. However, it is a National Works Agency [NWA] drain and we have reached out to them on the matter. The response is that they will look into it as soon as possible," Lynch told Observer West on Tuesday before the skies opened up, leaving commuters temporarily stranded in sections of the city and in Tucker, on the outskirts.

He told Observer West that everything else is going smoothly in terms of readying for a hurricane.

"All shelters have been checked and are in good operational standing. All shelter managers have been contacted as per the standard operating procedures and everybody is on alert," Lynch assured.

Over in Hanover, chairman of the municipal corporation Councillor Sheridan Samuels (People's National Party, Cauldwell Division) noted that there has been ongoing work to keep drains clean. This is because the town of Lucea is below sea level and easily flooded. The main drain, Venture Gutter, has a tendency to overflow its banks if not routinely cleaned. Residents are also encouraged to play their part.

"Our duty is to let our constituents know that, in terms of garbage, when it's thrown upstream, it's going to come downstream. Downstream is really in the town and that could cause major disaster to us, so I am imploring them not to do that," Samuels appealed.

Another area of concern is the Riley River that is often clogged by bamboo, resulting in flooding.

"We have done some mitigation work. The whole idea of the bamboo coming down was really a major challenge so we constantly look to see if there is any blockage," said Samuels.

Over in Westmoreland, mayor of Savanna-la-Mar Bertel Moore's big headache is one major drain in the town. All the others, he said, have been cleaned.

"There is a big earth drain that needs to be cleaned and it needs big equipment to do that. We have written to Pan Caribbean for one of their big equipment to help us out and they replied. We are supposed to have a meeting with them this week to see when the machine will come in the Sav-la-Mar area to do some drain cleaning," he said.

More needs to be done to clean the drains, he added, but there are simply not enough funds.

Moore has a long list of areas he is keeping an eye on as the hurricane season progresses. Communities that flood even if the drains are cleaned, he said, include McNeil Land and Peggy Barry.

In Trelawny, Councillor Jonathan Bartley (Jamaica Labour Party) whose Wakefield Division has seen its fair share of flooding in the past, said they are more prepared than in previous years. This, he explained, is because there has been "overall continued maintenance" of drains. Despite this, he anticipates flooding.

"There are some major [drains] that need to be dealt with because if we have major rain, doesn't matter how you clear those, there will still be flooding; but the only thing is that the water will recede faster," he explained.

The issue, he said, has less to do with the drains and more to do with where the water that flows along them ends up.

"When the aquifers are full there is nothing that we can do until the water recedes," said Bartley.

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