Two homeowners — one in Brighton and another in Dondo Hole, Park Hill — are at constant risk of their homes being flooded when it rains heavily, apparently because of poor physical planning in their communities, and the failure of the government to address the situations for years.
In Dundo Hole, Park Hill, while some residents are celebrating the recent completion of concrete footpaths in one area of the village, Rocita Jack’s nightmare continued amidst heavy rains when she spoke to iWitness News a few weeks ago.
At the same time, in Brighton, a homeowner, who asked not to be named so as to focus attention on the problem rather than on herself, said she believed that the construction of another house nearby could only make the flooding problem worse, unless the authorities fix a drain outside her house.
Jack, who spoke to iWitness News largely in the Vincentian vernacular, explained that she had been living on the plot of land, sandwiched between a deep embankment and a concrete road since around 2002.
She, as well as her neighbours bought the land in the North Central Windward constituency from the government.
“Every time the rain coming, it’s like I’m the one who getting the sh*t. As you can see, water coming down in front of my house door,” Jack told iWitness News.
“Sometimes, I have to leave my home and go in other family members’ place to sleep … because I’m scared for my life.”
She showed iWitness News around the house — which is concrete in one section and wooden in another. The runoff from the rain had deposited a sizeable amount of mud on the concrete road outside her house as well as outside her front door.
She told iWitness News that the previous week she had to be taking steps at 10 p.m. to prevent the rainwater from coming into her house.
“Me and God alone out here in the rain after I see all the rain water almost dey to come in me house,” Jack explained. (Watch video here)
‘like nobody nah hearing me out’
Jack said she has gone to the authorities several times but the situation is yet to be addressed.
“I go to the government, take pictures how many times, videos how many times carry it in their office and show them the situation ah way me ah facen (face),” Jack told iWitness News.
“Every time rain come, is like nobody nah hearing me out. Is like nobody ah do anything. Even with a big gutter behind me there, the bank breaking off and coming up behind my house and them kind ah stuff,” she said, referring to the gully behind her house.
She said her understanding was that someone had been given a contract to construct a retaining walk along the gully.
Jack pointed out to iWitness News what she said was some of the work that had been done.
“They said they gave – I am not calling any name — somebody they had given to fix down here. What the person did, I don’t know. I don’t know what’s going on. This is several years,” she said.
Jack was unsure of the source of all the mud that the rainwater deposits in her yard.
She noted that a road was constructed in the village.
“The road finish already but no sand ain’t coming from round there but the whole road ah messy. When people dress going town anywhere, they can’t get to walk on the road properly. This is how the condition ah the road does be and situation with wah me ah face in this place every time rain come.”
But this was not a recent development. The problem has been going on “for years, many decades.
“Since 2002 me live here. And this is the problem way me ah facen,” Jack told iWitness News. “Sometime you put on your clothes dress going ah town, you have to walk up in other people yard and all them kinds of things. And not everybody like it.”
She said the government has repeatedly promised to fix the problem.
“They say they will fix it. They send people to measure place. From the time they come and measure the place is nobody saying nothing, doing nothing.”
Jack said that she was attempting to repair her house, but the physical planning authorities had halted the work.
“… they telling me about planning and planning. Even to try to repair my house they are telling me about plan,” she said.
From ‘project approved’ to ‘no money’ for drain in Brighton
Meanwhile, in Brighton, residents might be left to wonder where those same planning authorities were and are when middle and upper middle-class homes were and are being built without the proper physical infrastructure.
“Well, the issue is that all the surface water [from higher up] comes down quite heavily when it rains, because this is like a bit of a valley,” the East St. George homeowner told iWitness News in a recent interview.
The woman who lives along the road to Brighton Salt Pond, said she is a victim of flood water coming from the houses and drains above her house.
There is a drain that crosses over the road at the front of her house.
She, however, told iWitness News that the drain cannot hold the volume of water that comes down when it rains.
As a result, the road, her house and yard have been flooded repeatedly, she explained.
“And what you have is that like all these houses that get built in the area, they have the drainage and they let the water out on the land,” she said.
The homeowner bought the house about eight years ago, and within a year, realised the drainage issue in the area.
“… the water it comes down and then it bends then it comes here and there’s another bend as it goes across. So, there’s an issue with that, I’ve discovered, because the water isn’t actually flowing straight…” she said, referring to a faulty drain in the area.
“So, over the years, we’ve been having a lot of issues with the heavy rain, the water coming over, it floods inside of the house, it floods through the yard.
The homeowner shared with iWitness News emails threads of her communication with BRAGSA and the Ministry of Finance, which is headed by her MP, Camillo Gonsalves.
In her May 22, 2023 email to BRAGSA, which the homeowner framed as a complaint, she explained that she was advised in 2016 to write to the chief engineer in the Ministry of Transport and Works, and was informed that an engineer would attend to assess how the issue could be rectified.
“I wrote letters in 2016, 2017 and 2018. I did not receive a reply, and no assessment was ever undertaken. These letters should be on file. I have recently been advised to contact BRAGSA.”
The homeowner emailed the agency on May 22, and a team visited the following day. Then, on July 6, 2023, in response to a follow-up email from the homeowner, a BRAGSA official said that he had “not too long signed off on the estimate to redo the crossing just outside your gate.
“Hopefully, we should start work soon.”
On July 31, responding to a July 12 follow-up email from the homeowner, the BRAGSA official said “Materials are being sourced for the project…”
Then, on Sept. 25, the same BRAGSA official, responding to another email from the homeowner, said the agency was looking to use an in-house team for the project but the team was subsequently reassigned, “pushing back this planned event, which was out of our control.”
The BRAGSA official told the homeowner that the engineer had just gone through the busiest time of the year for BRAGSA, when the school repair and road cleaning programmes were conducted simultaneously, “which … further compounded the issue.
“He is now trying to reschedule this activity, hopefully sometime soon,” the official wrote, referring to the engineer.
The homeowner told iWitness News:
“So, it’s just been a lot of letter writing and going into the office and reminding them that this is an issue.”
She said the situation is even more critical now that another house is being built in the neighbourhood, noting that water is always running in the area, although the volume decreases as the weather gets drier.
“So, I thought that this would be a good opportunity for them to look into it to see how something could be done to let everything kind of flow together and so that it would be less of an issue for me,” she said of the drainage in the area.”
‘I’ve been waiting for a long time’
The homeowner said she was mindful that sometimes there are other priorities and a drain outside her front yard might not appear to be “a super important thing.
“But at the same time, I’ve been waiting for a long time for them to address it,” she said and noted that she has been the one to initiate every correspondence from BRAGSA.
“I understand they do have unlimited resources and things like that. I don’t think I’m unreasonable. But I tried to do something myself and it’s not gonna work unless that problem gets sorted out.”
She was referring to work she said she had done, costing some EC$50,000 on excavation and a retaining wall.
“And I think like within a year water knocked it out. So, I didn’t bother to replace it because I realised, if I keep doing that and that (the drain) isn’t sorted out. It’s not gonna work and that’s not my responsibility”
She said she had shared her experience with the head of another public body and asked why the planning laws are not enforced. The homeowner said the person remarked that St. Vincent and the Grenadines is a poor country.
“I said that’s just an excuse; because we have things that supposed to be in place and if they get enforced, it will make things better. It not going happen overnight, but it will make things better in the long run,” the homeowner told iWitness News.
“In the volcano area, a lot of people building near to rivers and so that they’re not supposed to build.
“… the government should go when they’re putting the house there, say, ‘You cannot build here and if it has to get knocked down, it has to get knocked down, because in other countries that’s what happens.
“But it just becoming so incredibly stressful, because they know that nobody’s gonna do anything. Even if I talked to them about the drainage, they just fob me off.”
She said BRAGSA eventually told her that it has no resources to address the drain outside her home.
“… they went from we’re going to do the work, we’ve done the cost, to we don’t have any resources…
“And that’s when I got fed up and said I’m gonna contact the media.”
The homeowner said she also wrote to her MP “because in the world I know, MPs have a constituents’ office. You go there and you can talk to them about certain things.
“They can’t solve everybody’s problem, but they’re supposed to be showing an interest in what’s happening in the community.”
She said when she got a number for Gonsalves, it was a mobile number, “which was strange.
“… then they said to me, because he’s the finance minister, I have to contact Kingstown. I contacted Kingstown, called, never got a call back. Emails. Never got any reply. To me. That’s totally unacceptable. From November to now. Totally unacceptable. Not even one from the Secretary to say that they’ve received it but I know they have because I’ve called to say have you received it? Prime Minister’s Office the same.
“And the reason why I’m making sure that I let him know is because I’ve tried all of this stuff. Nothing is working. And if he sees a report in the press, it shouldn’t be that the first time he is knowing anything about it.
“I don’t believe in that. So, I’m being transparent to say that this is how I feel and I feel there’s been, you know, no, no accountability.”
The homeowner shared with iWitness News an email she said she sent to [email protected] on Nov. 8, 2023. She said she had received no response to it.