SQUATTING: In the path of a storm
Squatters have taken over some of the storm-ravaged houses along the coastline in Caribbean Terrace, east Kingston, but they are being warned that they are exposing themselves to clear and present danger.
The warning came from Oliver Clue, People's National Party councillor for the area, and some legitimate residents of the community, who have had to share their space with the squatters.
The residents say the squatters will be the first and hardest hit should Jamaica face a storm during this hurricane season, which started on June 1 and extends to November 30.
"There has been a series of meetings with the residents, and you will notice that in some of the houses, we now have 'friends' (squatters) from outside who have moved in," Clue pointed out.
"There have been educational exercises to make these 'friends' aware of the situation," added Clue, as he argued that the hurricane preparedness plans for the area will hinge on ridding it of the squatters.
Clue said he has been to several meetings with the residents in recent months and that the Kingston and St Andrew Corporation has been cleaning drains and clearing roadways there in preparation for the season.
Caribbean Terrace is usually hard hit with floods and sand deposition whenever a major storm system reaches Jamaica.
Many of the homes have been abandoned by their owners, some of whom are still wrangling with developers regarding the geographical conditions and the suitability of the area for building.
"There was some technical advice to say that we should not demolish the houses because if we demolish the houses, it would leave them (residents) hopeless, and the sea would just take over the whole Caribbean Terrace," explained Clue.
"So it was our intention to use some of the stuff (sand) that we have there to dump in some of the houses along the seaside, and use them as a buffer. But the resources that we had at the time just could not complete that exercise," added Clue.
The councillor could not say whether that exercise would be done before Jamaica is threatened this hurricane season.
He said the hurricane preparedness would inevitably include removing the squatters from the area.
"From day one, I, as councillor, have been trying to put a stop to it, but the police say they are not in a position to act until the owners come and say that they want them (squatters) removed," said Clue, as he noted that the legitimate homeowners have been slow in acting.
When our news team visited the community last Thursday, members of the police force were seen detaining five men said to be squatters in a midday operation. It was not clear why the men were being detained.
However, Caribbean Terrace residents complained about a string of robberies and at least one case of rape, in the southernmost section of the community where the squatters have taken shelter.
That section of the community has no electricity, and the broken-down structures give the area a spooky feeling at nights. But the squatters who live in the darkness don't mind.
"Me just have to shovel up right there so, back it up so that the water don't come 'round here so, and put two sandbags at the front," said one confessed squatter who refused to give his name.
He lives in a dilapidated property closest to the beach with his two sons and common-law wife.
"Once me do that, it really hard for the water to come inside the house. But it all depends on how hard the storm come this year," said the man, pointing to two areas to the sides of the building.
His hurricane preparedness plan involves relocating his common-law wife and children should a storm come. He, however, plans to ride out the disaster on the second floor of the hovel, as he has been doing each year.
Ricardo Munroe, who said that the house he occupies in the community was owned by his stepfather's father, lauded Clue's efforts, even though he claimed the authorities can do more.
"Me really feel sorry for the people dem who deh pon di front line, pon the direct seaside," he said. "It (floodwaters) bothers us on the inside, too, but dem on the front always get the full force of it.
"To how di councillor a deal wid it, though ... he is trying to clean up the place in a way that it secure the inner house dem because the other outer house dem done gone already and a dem a di barrier," said Munroe, obviously unaware that Clue's initial plan had stalled.
Ann-Marie Barnes, another resident of the area mostly occupied by the squatters, said she recently moved to the area and had heard the residents' devastating storm stories.
She plans to move to higher ground should a storm threaten the island.
However, Barnes hopes that no storm comes this year, as she experienced the wrath of Hurricane Gilbert decades ago and would not want to go through that again.
"But all me have to do, if it come, is just move go somewhere else," she said, laughing.
Jeffrey Thompson, a fisherman who also lives in the area, shared her view.
"Is about yah so it reach in a Hurricane Dean," said Thompson, in reference to floodwaters and sand that made it across the beach to inside his yard.
"So all me have to do is watch the storm and see how serious it is. Last time is just water and sand we get. If we have to evacuate, we just have to evacuate," he said, adding that it makes no sense for him to barricade anywhere to prevent the seawater from coming in during storms.
NOT BOTHERED BY FLOODS
In the meantime, elder homeowner Donald Graham and his partner Audrey Thomas have been living on the other side of Caribbean Terrace for more than 25 years.
They are not usually bothered by floods but rue the deterioration of their community over the years.
"First time when me live here, everybody was peaceful; everybody lived like one," said Graham.
"But from the hurricane dem mess up the house dem, Caribbean Terrace is not Caribbean Terrace like before. I don't know why dem (the authorities) don't get some boulders or something and fix up dung deh so, so you can prevent the squatters from living in the house them," added Graham.
His house is located next door to a vacant, overgrown premises, which The Sunday Gleaner confirmed was owned by former parliamentarian Sharon Hay-Webster. That house is now up for sale.
When contacted, Hay-Webster said that storm concerns in addition to security fears were the primary reasons for her leaving the area.