Mon | Nov 30, 2020

One eye on river, other on unstable hills - Bikers cash in on Gordon Town road breakaway

Published:Friday | November 13, 2020 | 12:21 AMAndre Williams/Staff Reporter
Shawn Burgess is praying the hills above his house will withstand the projected rains. He is not as concerned about the possibility of flooding from the nearby Hope River.
Shawn Burgess is praying the hills above his house will withstand the projected rains. He is not as concerned about the possibility of flooding from the nearby Hope River.
The home of Asauna Gordon located on the edge of the Hope River and about 200 feet below the Gordon Town road in St Andrew.
The home of Asauna Gordon located on the edge of the Hope River and about 200 feet below the Gordon Town road in St Andrew.
Asauna Gordon says that although she has some concerns, she is not too worried about the spot where she lives with her children.
Asauna Gordon says that although she has some concerns, she is not too worried about the spot where she lives with her children.
A motorcyclist drives on Thursday along a sliver of the Gordon Town main road, which has been savaged by breakaways and landslides during weeks of heavy rainfall that lashed the island. Pressure has been mounting for vulnerable residents in riverside and m
A motorcyclist drives on Thursday along a sliver of the Gordon Town main road, which has been savaged by breakaways and landslides during weeks of heavy rainfall that lashed the island. Pressure has been mounting for vulnerable residents in riverside and mountainside communities to be relocated.
A biker transports cement past a breakaway on the Gordon Town main road on Thursday. Residents of Gordon Town and its environs have resorted to paying upwards of $300 to transport goods across a narrow section of the thoroughfare.
A biker transports cement past a breakaway on the Gordon Town main road on Thursday. Residents of Gordon Town and its environs have resorted to paying upwards of $300 to transport goods across a narrow section of the thoroughfare.
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With recent rains causing severe flooding and landslides in Gordon Town and other areas of St Andrew, Shawn Burgess is a picture of concern, with his house precariously positioned between the storied Hope River and a hillside he is praying will remain stable through the continued rainfall.

Like other residents of the area, he is already enduring a different nightmare, with recent rains eroding a section of the main thoroughfare into the community, which can now only be accessed by foot or motorcycles.

While there have been talks by officials of relocating persons who have built homes in areas prone to disaster – by force if necessary – especially where the structures may be compromised by weakening or eroding river banks or landslides as a result of continuous rainfall, Burgess said no one had approached him on the matter.

Living on a hill below the road suffering the breakaway but above the banks of the Hope River for the last 10 years, Burgess told The Gleaner that while the river could potentially unleash its fury on them, the main threat at the moment is the hillsides above him.

“These areas made of mainly rocks ... so the chance of the rocks slipping away, that is slim, but on the other hand, you have the banking,” he said. “I am not scared of the river. I am more concerned about the overhead banking. What can we do more than pray and hope that it don’t [collapse]? If it continue to rain like how it raining ya now and the land get soak and it slip down, if we see that it’s going to happen, then the best thing I can do is tek weh myself.”

And if it happens in the dead of night, “Mi pray Father God to forgive me of all the sins weh mi do already until Him ready fi mi.”

HEALTH HAZARD

He expressed concern over a potential health hazard, with the garbage skips in the area filling up and no word as to how they will be emptied with the road now closed.

The breakaway has triggered worry about how residents will get out of the area quickly in case of emergency or how responders would reach them.

“If you have a pregnant mother right now, I don’t know how dem going to work out that if dem going to lift her across the breakaway or if she will be willing to take a bike ride across the breakaway,” Burgess said.

According to him, the hills are connected, and so if time permits, one can take the alternative route – “all the way up as far as Portland. That’s the safest way I know now because St Thomas is a no-no”.

Over the decade living there, Burgess said he had never seen such destruction as that caused by rains associated with then Tropical Storm Eta as it passed close to the island last week.

That view was seconded by his closest neighbour, Asauna Gordon, who lives with her children.

“From time to time, I observe my surroundings, but ... above the house, you don’t have a lot of rocks there. I would not say I am not concerned, but I am not 100 per cent concerned,” she said.

The recent breakaway, however, has caused her to consider all eventualities.

Her movements, like several others, have also been impeded.

Park and ride is the order of the day on Gordon Town road as taxis pick up and let off passengers on either side of the broken corridor.

The disaster has given a new lease on life for bikers who had no income. Residents are asked to fork up as much as $300 per load per passage.

“This is a blessing in disguise ‘cause Government nah do nothing for us,” one biker told The Gleaner. “When dem ready, dem say all kinda things ‘bout bike man, and look deh now: if yuh don’t have a bike, you can’t cross it.”

andre.williams@gleanerjm.com