Water, sewage, crocodiles
Residents brave floodwaters lurking with danger
They were trapped for 24 hours. Twenty-four hours of hunger, uncertainty, and waist-high crocodile-infested water whipping the wheel wells of their disabled vehicles.
Some persons were, at most, what would have been a normal 20 minutes drive from their homes. But that did not matter last Thursday evening into Friday, as leaving Golden Grove in St Thomas in anything other than a tractor or a truck could be a deadly risk. The bravest of the brave, however, mostly women, took the walk with sticks in hand.
Even more treacherous was the trek some residents of Greater Portmore in St Catherine made to get home Friday night. Lane after lane, home after home, floodwaters engulfed communities, bringing the stench of sewage and organic debris of all kinds into their homes.
The waters also brought a few unwelcome visitors.
Here, residents say, crocodiles are common in the waterways whenever it rains heavily, and the last few days have been no different.
Placed under a tropical storm watch on Thursday as the Potential Tropical Cyclone 22 made its approach from the southwestern tip of the island, Jamaica was battered for two days with heavy rainfall that caused flooding and landslides right across the island.
And lurking in those flood waters were many dangers.
Although The Sunday Gleaner did not see any of the reptiles during its visits to Portmore on Friday night and Saturday, residents said the consensus is clear and foreboding.
Because of this, they hopped, skipped, and waded through swamp-like lanes, dreading the sight of crocodiles in their paths. Others, more seasoned, made a frolic of the situation.
Once inside their homes, however, a greater predicament unfolded. Most homes were flooded in one lane visited by our news team, and throughout Saturday, the magnitude of their clean-up task ahead became clear.
“All of my documents dem soak – passport, visa, everything wet up,” fumed Wayne Mitchell, who occupies a corner lot with a small gully running beside it. That gully is famous for crocodile sightings, residents claimed.
Mitchell was hit the hardest among his neighbours Friday night. Although most of them were up to their ankles in water, he was up to his knees. And his important documents had been tucked away in a low drawer, he explained.
“If I could get a couple of sandbags maybe that would help. But honestly, I can’t take another round of rain,” moaned Mitchell yesterday as the floodwaters subsided, giving him and his neighbours a chance to clean up.
Overhead, and to the north, dark clouds loomed menacingly. Creeping slowly across the sky, they signalled their arrival with intermittent drizzle. This sent some residents scampering to recover items strewn on fences to dry.
Although the Meteorological Services of Jamaica discontinued the tropical storm watch for the island on Friday as the now-dissipated Potential Tropical Cyclone 22 passed the island, a flash flood warning remained in effect for low-lying and flood-prone areas, including Greater Portmore and Golden Grove, which is trapped between two murky crocodile-infested rivers.
HEALTH HAZARDS FROM FLOODING
Yesterday, the Ministry of Health and Wellness and one medical doctor warned of health hazards arising from flooded areas.
“Do not go outside until necessary. Wear water boots or closed shoes when going outdoors ... . If you get a puncture wound, ... and you have not been immunised in the last 10 years, seek medical attention immediately,” the ministry said in a release issued yesterday.
“If appliances are wet, turn off the main electrical power switch in your home before you unplug them. Dry out appliances, wall switches, and sockets before you plug them in again. Call a utility company,” read the release, which also advised of COVID-19-like protocols to stem the spread of viruses, and those pertaining to reducing mosquito and rodent infestation.
Alfred Dawes, a medical doctor who is also the People’s National Party’s standard-bearer for St Catherine South Eastern, said he was alarmed after touring sections of Portmore on Saturday.
“I am very concerned that there are instances where raw sewage has been flowing through not just the streets but residents’ toilets and into their homes. We are talking about a high content of coliform bacteria. It is a public health disaster waiting to happen,” he charged, noting that Portmore requires a comprehensive sewage-disposal overhaul.
“I am particularly concerned about an outbreak of dengue with all the settled water in the drains and the sides of the roads, which will take a long time to soak away or dry up,” he continued.
Making a special appeal to residents whose homes may have been flooded, Dr Dawes said, “Bleach everything that can be bleached. Don’t take it lightly that the sun alone will dry and disinfect things. We don’t know the level of contamination of the water in the houses. Disinfect even the furniture so long as what you are using won’t damage them.”
He noted that while some smaller drains were cleaned in recent times by the authorities, the larger waterways in the municipality – like the one running parallel to the Dyke Road – have not been cleaned in years. Sections of Gregory Park, Waterford, Bridgeport, and Greater Portmore were among the hardest hit based on his assessment, he said...areas also known for crocodile sightings.
USE A STICK
Treya Picking, a crocodile biologist and master’s student at The University of the West (UWI), explained that a boost in developments like Greater Portmore in the past few decades has resulted in an increased likelihood of encounters between humans and crocodiles.
Flooded waterways and rivers, especially nearing the start of the reptile’s breeding season in December, catalyse the movement of the animals in search of food, male crocodiles in search of females – called cows – and cows in search of places to lay their eggs in the coming year.
“They are living in the ponds and it is somewhat of a recent phenomenon, where the crocodiles are living in artificial wetlands, and this may be in response to the loss of natural wetlands elsewhere,” Picking explained.
“So when we have these floodings and the wetlands and the canals become flooded, the crocodiles extend their range. Sometimes they may get lost, sometimes they are just seeking out new areas and habitat while following the storm waters. Then when the storm waters start to recede, you could say the crocodiles don’t move fast enough and they become stranded.”
The American crocodiles found in Jamaica, she said, are quite shy and docile, but will defend themselves if threatened or startled. For that reason, residents should not venture into crocodile-infested waters, especially at night. If they must, the crocodile biologist said, they should always carry a stick and poke around in the water as they walk. This will most likely alert and scare off any crocodiles in the area.
On Friday, Ralston Drackett, a shopkeeper in Golden Grove, bemoaned the absence of proper groins in two rivers running through the area. He said it was common for his shop to be flooded whenever there is heavy rainfall; and also common is the presence of crocodiles at his shop’s back door.
AFTER HEAVY RAINFALL…
• Do not go outside until necessary.
• Wear water boots or closed shoes when going outdoors.
• Wear gloves when clearing debris or disposing of dirty water.
• If you get a puncture wound, such as a nail stick or a cut, and you have not been immunised in the last 10 years, seek medical attention immediately.
• Do not allow children to play in the water outside.
• Ensure that bleach, kerosene and other harmful chemicals are properly labeled and kept out of the reach of children.
• Continue listening to the radio for information and instructions.
• Use extreme caution when entering buildings (structures may have been damaged or weakened).
• Do not take lanterns, torches or any kind of flame into a damaged building. There may be leaking gas or other flammable materials present. Use battery-operated flashlights for light.
• If you smell leaking gas, turn off the main gas valve at the meter. Do not turn on lights – they can produce sparks that will ignite the gas. Leave the house immediately and notify the gas company or police. Do not re-enter the house until all odor of gas is gone.
• Notify the power company or fire department if you see fallen or damaged electrical wires.
• If appliances are wet, turn off the main electrical power switch in your home before you unplug them. Dry out appliances, wall switches and sockets before you plug them in again – call utility companies for guidance.
• Check food and water supplies for contamination and spoilage before using them.
• Wear sturdy shoes when walking through debris or broken glass and use heavy gloves when removing debris.
To reduce the spread of infection:
• Cover nose and mouth when sneezing and coughing to reduce the spread of droplets and therefore infection.
• Observe good hand cleansing practices.
• Hands should be washed regularly with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitiser can be used. It is important that the hand sanitiser is not used to replace hand washing. The recommendation is that after three uses of the hand sanitiser, the hands should be washed with soap and water.
Controlling mosquito and rodent infestation:
Conditions immediately after a disaster are likely to cause a rapid increase in the population of insects and rodents. This is due to collections of large water bodies and debris in the environment. To minimise this:
• All garbage should be properly bagged, tied and stored until collected.
• Punch holes in the bottom of tins to avoid water collection and dispose of containers as soon as possible.
• Cover tightly all drums, barrels, tanks, and buckets that are storing water for use. If container cannot be covered, pour cooking oil to cover the surface of the water.
• Get rid of all old tyres, tins, bottles, plastic containers, coconut shells and anything in which rainwater can settle.
- The Ministry of Health & Wellness