Jamaica Gleaner
Published: Monday | November 12, 2012
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Muddy hell! - Port Maria struggles to recover after weekend flooding
Business owners and workers doing clean-up operations yesterday after their stores were flooded in Port Maria, St Mary, on the weekend. - Photos by Ricardo Makyn/Staff Photographer
Anastasia Cunningham, News Coordinator

The busy town of Port Maria in St Mary was brought to a standstill yesterday after extensive flooding left businesses and homes covered in mud.

On Saturday, heavy rains caused the Pagee and Outram rivers to overflow their banks, gushing into the town from both ends, completely inundating the capital city.

Hit the hardest by the weekend flood rains, residents and business owners are now trying desperately to clean up and assess the damage.

The citizens said the rains started shortly after 3 p.m., but they didn't think anything of it. Within an hour, however, they heard a gush of water coming down the main road and within minutes muddy water started streaming into the buildings.

Several persons attempted to save what they could, moving some things to higher ground. But the water started to rise, reaching waist high, forcing them to abandon the goods and focus on personal safety.

A number of persons were trapped for hours in buildings and on the bridge, but rescue was impossible, as police officers were themselves trapped in the Port Maria Police Station and forced to move to the top floor of the building.

The gushing water had covered vehicles in the street, thwarting any attempt to enter the town.

Hours later when the water finally subsided and persons could come out, everything was left soaked and muddied. Practically everything was ruined.

Many business owners said they thought the worst was behind them with the damage from Hurricane Sandy two weeks ago, so they had cleaned up and fully stocked their stores for the Christmas season.

"This is awful. Look at it. We were in this very same position two weeks ago with Hurricane Sandy. We never thought we would be back here again," said businessman Leon Edwards.

Inside his Edward's Supermarket, the flood waters had risen five feet high, destroying the major appliances and ruining his goods.

He said between the damage from Hurricane Sandy and Saturday's flooding, his estimated loss stood at $12 million.

"We had just fully stocked the store in time for Christmas and now look at the damage," he said.

Edwards said they started having the problem of extensive flooding in the town six years ago after the construction of Highway 2000.

"All the rivers that used to run to the bush, they channel them to the big river, which can't hold the water whenever we have heavy rain, so this is what we have to go through for six years now. Something has to be done," said the businessman.

Meca Plunkett, manager of the Courts store in Port Maria, said it was only last weekend that they had completely restocked the store.

"Hurricane Sandy had destroyed everything, so we had to get rid of it all and bring in completely new things. Here we are again two weeks later with everything completely destroyed," said Plunkett.

"This was worse than Sandy. Yesterday (Saturday) we only had about an hour of rain but the force broke the glass at the front and the water just rushed into the store. It came up to our waist."

The Port Maria Police Station was left out of commission. Some things that could be saved were moved to an unoccupied floor above the station.

"This area doesn't belong to the station, but we have nowhere else to go," said Sergeant Robert Collins.

"It is very bad. The police cannot operate in this condition. Something has to be done. This is not a suitable location for a police station. Whenever the town is flooded, this is what happens."

For the second time in a few weeks, the Port Maria Primary School will not be open. Classrooms and the offices were covered in mud, with everything ruined. The yard was also deep in mud and silt, and part of the retaining wall broken away.

"It was just reopened on Wednesday for grades four to six after Hurricane Sandy, but now we don't know when school will reopen," said caretaker Hopeton Lewis.

In the afternoon, two fire trucks were helping to power-wash the mud out of the buildings, while some persons carried buckets of water from the nearby sea to help with the clean-up.

In surrounding communities, residents were also trying to clean up, but at 2 p.m. the rain came once more and they began to worry if the nightmare was beginning all over again.

anastasia.cunningham@gleanerjm.com

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