'Clean the drains!'
Flooded Bunker's Hill road continues to negatively impact schooling at Unity Primary
Bunker's Hill residents walk through flood waters on a section of the roadway leading to the Unity Primary and Infant School, last Friday.

BUNKERS HILL, Trelawny CALLS for a massive drain-cleaning programme are reverberating across this rural community as heavy rains associated with Tropical Storm Ian have triggered flooding in the area, resulting in the blocking of the roadway leading to Unity Primary and Infant School and the subsequent suspension of face-to-face classes at the facility since last Friday.

Up to Wednesday, classes were being conducted online due to the flooded roadway, made worse by persistent rainfall in the area since the start of this week.

To exacerbate the predicament being faced by the school, the lack of devices and Internet connectivity are frustrating the virtual learning process for some students, Marlene Salmon, the recently appointed principal, bemoans.

"Not all the students have the necessary devices and not all of them have Internet access…so we have to try to contact Internet providers. I have tried to contact Food for the Poor, but they do not have technological devices available at this time. I will be trying to contact other places for help. We are in the process of sending out letters to get help for our students in the interim so that they can all be catered for," Salmon told the Jamaica Observer West.

SALMON…we are seeking help now from various agencies.

She also divulged that even some teachers are stymied by the absence of Internet connectivity.

"We have about 184 students on roll; about 170-odd of them attend regularly. Since online, some days we have less than 100 [participating], sometimes a little over a 100. Today [Monday] we had 115 online. Some of the teachers themselves are having technological challenges," the principal said.

"My colleagues are fighting, they are trying very hard to make ends meet and trying to meet as many students as possible. It is impossible to meet all of them if they don't have the devices and they don't have Internet access."

"We are seeking help now from various agencies. We have sent photos to the Member of Parliament's office also, and sent photos to JSIF [Jamaica Social Investment Fund], who we had written letters to before, not for this situation. We have been submitting letters to various agencies hoping that we can get some help in very short order so that we can take out children and staff and parents to cross the road."

WALKER… after the water recedes for the roadway, a thorough drain-cleaning exercise will have to be undertaken.

Efforts to reach Member of Parliament for Trelawny Northern Tova Hamilton on Wednesday were unsuccessful. Calls to her cellphone went straight to voicemail.

Acting chairman of the school board, Dale Walker complained that blocked drains which usually facilitate the transportation of rainwater to a sinkhole in the community are at the root of the flooding problem.

He expressed that after the water on the roadway recedes, a thorough drain-cleaning exercise will have to be undertaken in the community.

Another community member, Ronald Beckford, has also lamented the neglect of the drains in the community.

RICKETTS…we are looking into the best way forward in terms of remedial action.

"The drainage in the community has been completely ignored, and over the years we have been complaining about it. One of the roads, which is a bypass road, has been totally neglected and now it's a mud pond," Beckford lamented.

Salmon, who revealed that the situation is being assessed daily to determine if the water has run off sufficiently to allow the use of the road by students, explained that so far, efforts to access vehicles "high enough" to transport the students across the flooded roadway have been futile.

She also revealed that, "even the effort of a male resident who packed stones in an area of the body of flood water to assist students to cross over", has failed as, following overnight rains, the water climbed over the makeshift bridge.

"A gentleman, Mr Reid, was in the area yesterday [Sunday], trying to put stones in the water to see if he could create a little area where students could walk, but by this morning the water rose higher than the stones.

So, I guess we have to clear the drains or have some transportation to carry the students across. And the transportation will have to be higher than a regular car — like maybe a bus, a high vehicle — but a regular car will not be able to do it," Salmon told the Observer West on Monday.

The principal is also appealing to residents who are in possession of devices to share with those of their neighbours who are without.

"We are also encouraging the parents to do a sharing of devices or to share with their neighbours, those who live close by, so they [students] can do their assigned tasks that teachers have set," Salmon stated.

Community relations officer for the National Works Agency's (NWA) Western Region, Janel Ricketts said members of the NWAs technical team have attributed the flooding to a nearby river breaching its banks.

"So this led to the flooding of two areas along the stretch, the community centre, and the area just below the Unity Primary and Infant School. What happened is that we had a weather system out and there was a lot of rain, and so with that the river breached its banks and led to the flooding of the area. It's a low-lying area and the river is nearby so when the river is in spate it comes over and blocks the road. So, that has been attributed to the reason for the blocking of that particular stretch of roadway," Ricketts told the Observer West.

"The technical team has done their damage assessment and they have compiled information on that area and other areas as well, and submitted same, and we are looking into the best way forward in terms of remedial action."

BY HORACE HINES Observer West reporter hinesh@jamaicaobserver.com

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