The denuded hills along the narrow, winding Paria Main Road, leading to the rural fishing villages of Grand Riviere and Matelot a week after the communities were cut off by fallen trees, landslides and overflowing rivers, still pose a real risk with every rainfall.
Last Wednesday, a Sunday Newsday team went into the communities to witness first hand how the villagers were coping after scores of homes were flooded with water as much as five-feet high in some cases.
At Matelot at least three homes were untouched after major landslips and rock slides sent tonnes of dirt crashing down. One two-storey house is just about three-feet away from sliding down a hill as a landslide toppled coconut trees and other plants.
The homeowners, who don’t have legal titles for lands passed down to them by generations, are pleading for any assistance to save their homes from total destruction.
Venezuelan Nice Quijada, 42, who lives with his wife, Jenny, and their five-year-old daughter Naysha, a short distance from the Grand Riviere River, lost everything and were lucky to come out alive after they climbed on the roof of their home to escape torrents of water which flooded his area in less than five minutes after the river breached its banks on three occasions.
Quijada, a chef, who once worked at the iconic Acajou resort nearby, said he also managed to save his dog, Charlie, who crawled into a ball on the roof. He said his family was trapped on the roof as no one could venture in nor could they walk out as the water rose over six-feet on the roadway.
He said the water subsided in about an hour and he was still cleaning his home. Quijada said he was grateful for the assistance of CEPEP crew who helped power wash the house and the donations of a sofa set and two mattress. In his yard, pieces of carpet and mats were still drying. The family’s pet parrot managed to survive to clinging on to the very top of the five-foot cage.
At the world famous Grand Riviere turtle nesting site the devastation of almost 20 feet of shoreline was jarring.
Thousands of unhatched leatherback turtle eggs and hatchlings were devoured by the raging Grand Riviere and Ferdinand rivers which flooded the shoreline on June 29, the day after a tropical storm narrowly missed landfall on TT.
Vice president of the Grand Riviere Turtle Trust Len Peters in a telephone interview on Friday said two of the four zones were affected by the overflowing rivers. He said apart from logs and other vegetation which were deposited on zones one and two, 2,400 metres of prime turtle nesting site remain unaffected.
Peters said over time the sea will restore the shoreline but he was concerned about the westward flow of the two rivers which affected zones three and four, each of them 1,200 metres long.
“We lost a lot of eggs, we lost a lot of beach front,” he said, estimating about 20 feet of shoreline was now gone from in front of Mt Plasir hotel to the east end where fisherfolk anchor their pirogues.
Peters said he ventured into the forest to investigate the cause of the unusual extreme outflow which saw raging water as high as six feet above the bridge crossing the Grand Riviere River. He said saw a path about 100 feet wide which catapulted raging water though virgin forest towards the sea uprooting trees, rocks and other debris as it barrelled down the mountain.
Peters said while everybody else was counting their lucky stars after the storm passed by without any damage, the situation in fishing villages of Grand Riviere and Matelot was nothing short of a disaster.
He said since March, at the beginning of the turtle nesting season, approximately 100 to 200 leatherbacks come to Grand Riviere on a nightly basis and they had favoured zone four, close to the river mouth this year.
With the extreme rain, the floods on June 29 stretched the river’s mouth to over 200 feet wide and the force and velocity of the water that day washed away everything in its path.
Peters since the event turtles have been coming to the beach front to zones one and two and as the season advances he anticipates more will come to the western end. He said people are still visiting nightly to witness the natural phenomenon of leatherback laying in the soft sand and the roads were all cleared of landslides and other threats.
He said the Grand Riviere bay was a “high energy beach” which had a circulating current and says the shoreline will be restored over time, particularly if there is “ground sea” a period of rough sea where large volumes of sand will be deposited on the shoreline.
Peters said the abandoned fishing facility in Grand Riviere which was constructed by the former People’s Partnership administration in 2013 was never handed over to the fishermen and can still be used as a sanctuary to protect the boats in the event of a storm. However, he hopes that some corporate body or the government assists the fishermen to acquire a small tractor and trailer to pull the vessels from the sea to safety.
He said the facility can also be used by fishermen from Matelot who do not have any proper facilities to store their vessels in bad weather.
The $3 million fishing facility is in ruins, without an electrical connection, no gates and is in need of power washing and some paint to be restored. Fishermen say the slipway was too narrow for their vessels and want authorities to install a breakwater to combat the rough waves so they can access the facility.
Peters said Matura Nature Reserve was about 9,000 hectares and drained off in two major rivers, the Grand Riviere which had two branches, and Shark River, and with heavy rainfall the volume of water from that forest reserve was astounding.
Fisherman David Aaron said there was nowhere for the 20 or so fisherfolk to bring in their vessels during a storm or rough seas and even the trees they usually tied them too were now gone with the recent floods.
At Matelot, veteran fisherman Lawrence “Nya” Morgan said fisherfolk in his community were being neglected for decades. He said they had no slipway to bring in their boats in bad weather and they had to by lifted by about 20 men above a 10 foot incline, no easy task.
At the furthermost point entering the bay, he said a light to guide fishermen was relocated to Toco. He said fishermen had to pay $2,000 each to register their boats “and now they want to tax the boatman too.” Morgan said people sitting behind desks were making decisions affecting his industry without having any knowledge of the industry. Morgan said while he was grateful for the 50 per cent subsidies to help off-set the cost of fuel, now doubled to $620 per keg, and engine maintenance, simple other fixes could encourage fishermen to stay in the business.
President of the Matelot King Fishers Association Anderson Zoe said the aftermath of the June 29 floods and landslides were still evident even though government officials were claiming success in their response. He said roadside drains from Monte Video to Matelot still needed to be cleaned of mud and other debris and the people in the village could be employed to assist “by running two 10 days.” Zoe said Matelot villagers were the first to respond to clear blocked roads and even though there were skilled tractor operators in the district, there was no equipment to use even there is Ministry of Works site near the Toco Police Station.
“It is simple things that could get done but they are making mountains our of molehills,” he said.
Zoe said the member of Parliament for Toco/Sangre Grande Roger Munroe and the area’s local government councillor Martin “Terry” Rondon needed to pay closer attention to the needs of the community because “whatever they are doing is not working.”
In Matelot, in the hill over the cemetery, Peter “Pyam” Meltz, 69, lives with his extended family in a two-storey house overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. A land slippage threatens to bring his house down. He said an official of the Land and Surveys Division visited him last week and told him that he could not get any help from the State because he did not have a deed for the land. Meltz said the land was handed down to him and he had been paying his taxes over the last 30 years.
All of the fruit trees he planted on the hill to secure the land collapsed with the landslide.
Higher up, Amos Kirton, 22, who lives with his two younger brothers, along Santa Cruz Old Road, said a mudslide is threatening to flatten his home. He is hoping for some assistance to remove tonnes of dirt propped against his home. Kirton said he too did not have legal title for the land passed on to him by his grandfather.
Along the Paria Main Road, rocks and other debris collapsed on the roof and side of Belzar Sutherland home and lower down, Ricky Sutherland’s modest home built on a narrow strip of land above the ocean is a hair’s breath of falling into the sea.
The potholed roads leading to the villages have not been spared the ravages of heavy run off as concrete cylinders have collapsed, sinkholes can swallow entire cars, and lose gravel spread on some craters will no doubt wash away by the very next rains.
A week after the bad weather, bmobile service was still down limited communication along the entire northeast coast.
Rural Development and Local Government Minister Faris Al-Rawi said on Saturday, “We sent a team from the ministry on site to confirm reports – we have identified two homes in priority need as well as other works required including road and bridge ways affecting the community as a whole – we will have proper reports completed with urgency and will identify executing agencies with responsibility.”