While the government through its state agencies would be assisting persons, she said serious attention would be given to regulating building and development, building codes and dealing with soft drink containers. She also said the Town and Country Planning Division (TCPD) needed more “teeth” to carry out its work.
Persad-Bissessar spent several hours, starting at noon, visiting areas to see first-hand the damage caused. The tour began with a view of the damaged wall at the Trinidad Country Club and proceeded to a few areas in Maraval, then to St James and Cocorite.
She said for many years flooding used to be in low lying areas now it was in high areas.
“We have to give more serious attention to planning and development. How we deal with issues we see around us.”
Persad-Bissessar speaking to media at Cocorite said the Chairman of the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Management Dr Stephen Ramroop advised that in Latin America and other countries they were looking at “retrofitting” in which existing businesses and dwellings, not built to specifications, were reviewed.
“The regulation of building and land development is very vital. We have seen today that is a major factor contributing to what we are seeing.”
Persad-Bissessar said she will ask Minister of Housing and the Environment Dr Roodal Moonilal to deal with the beverage containers. “Everywhere you went you saw plastic bottles and so the whole issue of environmental protection is very vital at this time.”
Persad-Bissessar did not want to comment on whether there would be stiffer penalties for persons who breached the regulations.
“We need to re-look the legislation and to see how best we could frame that legislation, whether it will or will not include stiffer penalties. But certainly more stringent measures in terms of environmental control,” she said.
Asked if “more teeth” would be given to TCPD, Persad-Bissessar said, “most certainly, we really need to give greater teeth to find more stringent measures within TCD.”
She saw the “suffering” being experienced by people and said it was not time to lay blame but to give priority to areas to be addressed to ensure improvement in the environmental circumstances.” Persad-Bissessar said problems she saw were not from a year or two but a 30-year disaster waiting to happen.
“We have been in many areas with my team. A lot of things need to be done. What is our response to that? We will send in our officers from the various ministries, Local Government Ministry, Works and infrastructure, National Security, Ministry of the People and Social Development. She said the Ministry of the People was “very important because people have lost so much those officers will be coming in to assess the damage. We can assist. We have to look at this as a multi-pronged approach.”
She said it would be foolhardy to say everyone will be compensated but that the Ministry of the People will be assessing the claims in an attempt to mitigate losses.
Persad-Bissessar praised the work of first responders of the state agencies who were “Right on top of this.” She was advised by the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Management that it was the first time the response was instantaneous. She thanked the workers of the Community Environment Protection and Enhancement Programme who worked from Saturday night and resumed yesterday and would be out again today.
Works Minister Jack Warner said his ministry would have to request additional funds because its current funds were insufficient.
“I was thinking as I was coming here even if we have twice the amount we cannot do it. We have to have some kind of strategic plan that will do the critical works first and we can always prioritise. That is what we will have to sit and do.”
Warner was pleased that interventions made prevented flooding at South Quay and at the Princess Elizabeth Centre in Woodbrook.
Commenting on unregulated development, Warner said the ministry had to look at where people built houses, otherwise there would be a tragedy of immense proportions. Warner said he wished legislation could be prepared by today to deal with developers cutting the hills. “They deforest the hills and we suffer as a result. We have to nip the problem in the bud.”
Minister of the People Dr Glenn Ramadharsingh said some of the damage exceeded the $20,000 ceiling on grants from the ministry, however he said the ministry would be “innovative.” He said his ministry would have to collaborate with the National Commission for Self Help and URP to deal with cases on merit, adding that a “special case” may have to be made to the Cabinet for persons severely affected. Officers from his ministry were assessing the damage.
Many residents were still cleaning their homes yesterday. Among the places seen by Persad- Bissessar was the home of retired High Court Judge Lionel Jones at Champs Elysees, Maraval.
Household items were placed to air-dry and Jones’ pool was full of muddy water.
He said the water came into his driveway from across the street. “A room here flooded out, the pool over flowed into the main building. So there was mud and slush all around.”
Jones could not calculate his losses but said insurance should cover some of them.
He has been living in the community for eight years and said it had never flooded. With dark clouds looming overhead and the possibility of more rain, all Jones could say was “I hope it does not come as it did yesterday.” According to Jones, with “normal rainfall” the water would run off quickly.
At Gittens Avenue, Maraval the road was still full of mud. The main drain was clogged and residents feared if rain fell again more flooding would follow. Natalie Luz, said when the wall at the Country Club collapsed, all the water flooded the area.
Annesia Kumar, of Upper La Sieva suffered extensive damage to her kitchen which was washed away. A washing machine lay at the bottom of the hill from her home. Her niece, Aliyah Ali said, “the kids’ school clothes, pots, pans, everything were lost. My uncle, all his railing and stairs went down. Half of the road went into the river as well. We were doing some repairs and everybody had to rush out the house.” Seven persons lived in the house. A cascade of muddy water could be seen yesterday.
Member of Parliament for Diego Martin Central Dr Amery Browne, whose constituents were affected, told Newsday that his office had to find out the immediate needs of residents.
He said the Defence Force responded with its first engineering battalion to help flood victims but “residents did most of the clearing”.
Browne said eight area managers were deployed to survey areas and develop a list of persons whose homes were affected by flood water, those who required assistance via government grants or who had to be relocated.
He said the flooding was caused by a range of factors: heavy rainfall, no maintenance of existing water courses, no infrastructure to address drainage problems and poor quality work on retaining walls. He also said residents had to take personal responsibility since some continued to throw rubbish in water courses.