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Farming woes - Southfield cultivators make urgent appeal for help
published: Monday | August 16, 2004

Monique Hepburn and Roy Sanford, Staff Reporters

WESTERN BUREAU: FARMERS IN Southfield, south west St. Elizabeth, are calling on the Government for emergency assistance. They say they need an urgent supply of seeds and poultry and livestock, including chickens, turkeys and pigs, to start over, as a result of damage caused by flooding on Wednesday rains spawned by Hurricane Charley.

The farming community of Southfield has suffered millions of dollars in damage to crops and dwellings. At least two houses lost their roofs to heavy wind during the passage of Hurricane Charley on Wednesday night.

Ethel Williams, a 76-year-old farmer, gave this account: "About 9 p.m. during the storm, I hear a loud screech and I just know the roof gone. God was good to keep the roof on over my room but I not going to feel broken down over it because I could be dead." In her yard, several trees were uprooted including a massive ackee tree, which smashed her outdoor kitchen. Residents have since been out in their numbers repairing their roofs.


On Miss Williams's farm, escallions were uprooted and washed away by the floods. Other farmers suffered losses to their tomato, sweet pepper and melon crops.

Llewlyn Jones, 56, farmer, of Congo Hole, Southfield, lost his roof during the storm and ran frantically from house to house before a neighbour offered him shelter.

"I just run through the yard in the heavy breeze and rain and thank God somebody tek me in," Mr. Jones told The Gleaner.

Government and relief agencies are working feverishly to assist residents of St. Elizabeth who were affected by Hurricane Charley which dumped a lot of rain there and in south Manchester on Wednesday.

Preliminary estimates are that damage to crops and infrastructure will total more than $300 million.

Frank Witter, Mayor of Black River, told The Gleaner on Friday that rain and flooding caused by Hurricane Charley dealt a severe blow to the south-eastern and south-western sections of the parish, where more than 80 per cent of the parochial road networks were destroyed.

"I am making an urgent appeal to the Government that certain sections of the parish be designated disaster areas due to the severity of the flood," Mr. Witter said. "The community of Bigwoods and the adjoining district of Hounslow are still cut off from the rest of the parish and at least 30 families are affected."

The Mayor's call is shared by Dr. Horace Chang, a Jamaica Labour Party deputy leader, and Dr. Christopher Tufton, deputy chairman of the JLP's St. Elizabeth South-West constituency. Dr. Chang who toured the area, bemoaned what he said was a "slow pace of response from relief agencies to the plight of those affected".

Several organisations have promised to assist the victims of the flooding. "We will be doing assessments and we will be prepared to assist those affected as early as Monday," said George Thomas, executive director of the St. Elizabeth Homecoming Foundation.

Marc Panton, president of the newly-formed St. Elizabeth Chamber of Commerce, said his organization would be assisting. "At least one of our representatives is in Treasure Beach exploring ways in which we can assist," he said on Friday.

He said that members of a family who were rescued from a roof top, have been relocated to Mandeville by the chamber. "We will be providing uniforms for the children in that family when school re-opens," he said.

Farmers in Southfield are calling on the Government for emergency assistance. They said they need an urgent supply of seeds and livestock, including chickens, turkeys and pigs, to start over.

Rayon Dixon, a young farmer said he had expected to see Donald Buchanan, Member of Parliament for St. Elizabeth South-West. "We want to see Mr. Buchanan down here. Him hear seh we flood out and him don't reach yet. All of the melons I put out to sell wash way in the night," he complained.

Health authorities in the parish are cautioning residents in the affected areas to take precautionary measures to prevent water-borne diseases.

Dr. Derrick Ledford, Medical Officer for St. Elizabeth, told The Gleaner that residents should use water from reliable sources only such as from the National Water Commission. "In the event that they are unsure about the safety of the water, they should boil or chlorinate the water," he said.

This warning was reiterated by Lester Beharie, Chief Public Health Inspector for St. Elizabeth, who explained that the flood water contains dead animals and raw sewage. "People, especially children, should not venture into the water because they may develop infections," he said.

Yvonne Morrison, disaster co-ordinator of the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management for St. Elizabeth, said the National Works Agency was assessing road damage, the National Water Commission was assessing water damage and quality, and the Jamaica Public Service Company's team was assessing damage to the electricity grid.

According to Ms. Morrison, the exact numbers of persons affected by the storm has not yet been determined.

"Some of areas still remain cut off, however, we have offered relief supplies to those we know that have been affected. We are able to offer more food supplies as the number of those affected has been determined.

"To our knowledge, the seven persons rescued by the Jamaica Defence Force helicopter are staying with family and friends."

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