Mon | Apr 19, 2021
RIVERS AS FRIENDS AND FOES

Over three years on, Sunnyside residents feel the river’s fury

Published:Monday | January 18, 2021 | 12:13 AMJudana Murphy/Gleaner Writer
A cyclist makes his way past debris dumped on the Flat Bridge in Bog Walk, St Catherine by Rio Cobre.
A cyclist makes his way past debris dumped on the Flat Bridge in Bog Walk, St Catherine by Rio Cobre.
Ignatius Parke, of Sunnyside, recalls the day when he experienced the worst flooding by the Rio Cobre in 2017. The water level rose up as high as his car parked in his veranda.
Ignatius Parke, of Sunnyside, recalls the day when he experienced the worst flooding by the Rio Cobre in 2017. The water level rose up as high as his car parked in his veranda.
Sonny Mahabeer, a resident of Sunnyside, shows the mark where the flood waters from Rio Magno reached in 2017.
Sonny Mahabeer, a resident of Sunnyside, shows the mark where the flood waters from Rio Magno reached in 2017.
Young Men use sticks to remove debris from the rising Rio Cobre near the Flat Bridge.
Young Men use sticks to remove debris from the rising Rio Cobre near the Flat Bridge.
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Window-high flood marks are a stark reminder to residents of Sunnyside, Linstead in St Catherine, of the terrifying May 2017 ordeal.

The rains, caused by a trough affecting the central Caribbean, pounded the country from Monday night, May 15, into Tuesday morning.

Thirty people were rescued from rising flood waters by a team from the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) Air Wing, assisted by the Jamaica Fire Brigade and the police.

Rio Magno, a tributary which flows into the Rio Cobre, runs just beyond the backyard of Sonny Mahabeer’s home.

He has resided in the community for seven years and explained that anytime it begins to rain, residents fear the most.

“The last time when it trap us in the house, we did a asleep. When mi get up fi go wee wee, mi find seh a inna water mi step,” he recounted.

“When this river come dung, it come over in the house and reach to the window where the mark is. We were trapped in the house and everything inside a di house mash up. TV and stove mash up, mi music set mash up, everything mash up,” he said.

He is yet to recover from the losses he sustained or find a suitable home to relocate.

Mahabeer said in the last week of November, the river overflowed its banks but only made it to the mango tree on the property, a few metres away from the house.

Alberta Hare is grateful to have been spared from the ravaging waters. A returning resident, she has found the community peaceful but once it gets overcast, she begins to feel the jitters.

She recalled that on about three occasions, flood waters have been metres away from her home but no experience comes close to May 2017.

THANKFUL FOR LIFE

“The furniture start to swim in the house, souvenirs fell and broke. I lost a lot but I’m thankful for life,” she told The Gleaner on a recent visit.

Another resident, Ignatius Parke, lives in a two-storey house along the Rio Magno and recalled vividly the events of May 2017, which claimed the lives of his nine goats.

“That one was rough. That flood drag a truck from here and carry it go turn it over. It flood out everybody, that shop, that house, down to the car on the verandah got flood out. Everybody flood out and under mud,” the resident of 15 years said.

The second floor of the 63-year-old’s home was where many residents sought refuge from the raging waters.

Parke helped to rescue young children from the floodwaters by putting them on a high wall to sit. “One a di likkle girl, Princess, is throw har mother throw har over the fence and seh to me ‘Shorty, yuh can hold har?” he said.

He said the rains in October and November this year filled the river up to its banks, but hardly made it to land.

Parke suggested that some river training be conducted to prevent future flooding in the community.

“Water more destructive than fire cause fire will blaze up and cool down but water undermines your property,” he said.

These stories are first in a series that highlight how rivers affect the lives of people across Jamaica. judana.murphy@gleanerjm.com