Heavier than usual annual year-end rains have battered the south Caribbean in the past week, collapsing roads and homes, causing extensive flooding and forcing the closure of schools and state and private sector agencies. The rain has induced commercial mayhem and the loss of millions of dollars, making it the worst natural disaster of the year for the region.
Oil- and gas-rich Trinidad was the first to be affected by the late November deluge, which collapsed a main highway connecting communities from the north to the south. The collapse caused severe hardships for districts that were cut off by the disappearance of parts of the Manzanilla-Mayaro Road.
Officials such as Highways Director Roger Ganesh said that large parts of the main artery would have to be rebuilt in the very near future, but immediate plans to do so have been thwarted by the continuous rainfall, floods and water gushing onto the roadway from the nearby Nariva Swamp. Initial estimates put the repair bill at apprximately $10 million for the roadway alone. The local power utility is also facing heavy expenses to repair downed lines and power poles and is awaiting the recession of flood waters to reconnect power to homes still in the dark after the disaster.
As is normally the case in Trinidad, opposition and rights groups heaped scorn on the administration of Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar for not responding rapidly enough to the disaster. Critics have also alleged shoddy infrastructural works and called out the administration’s apparent inability to do anything positive about recurring floods, landslides and other problems associated with heavy rains.
Further south in Guyana, the administration of President Donald Ramotar suffered embarrassment after large parts of Georgetown City and coastal regions were flooded late last week when the traditional November to January rains came and caught authorities off-guard. The floods caused the education ministry to close hundreds of schools, and the ground floors of thousands of homes, private businesses and state agencies were also forced to close, as up to 12 inches of dirty water inundated buildings.
The local weather service said that the 7.3 inches of rain received last Thursday was the most rainfall recorded in a 12- to 24-hour period in decades, but many—including the pro-government, sometimes sycophantic private sector commission—blamed widespread corruption relating to drainage and other maintenance works and a non-functioning forecasting system for the state of play. This is as water remained on land in many communities toward the weekend.
In both Guyana and Trinidad, more heavy rain was predicted for the remainder of the month, even as authorities struggled to cope with problems from the first and heaviest set of rains. The private sector said millions had been spent to clean canals and acquire a state-of-the-art Doppler weather station, even though not a single citizen was warned of the severe weather.
In Barbados, the most easterly in the Caribbean island chain, authorities closed schools late in the week and urged the country to brace for bad weather for the rest of the month, blaming it on a trough that was sitting near the island.