Sat | Nov 28, 2020

Billion$ bill - Conservative estimate for flood damage, but assessors still counting costs

Published:Tuesday | October 27, 2020 | 12:22 AMJason Cross/Gleaner Writer
A man, with the help of a tractor, clears a land slippage that blocked the Mount Felix main road in St Thomas on Monday after heavy rains battered the island on the weekend.
A man, with the help of a tractor, clears a land slippage that blocked the Mount Felix main road in St Thomas on Monday after heavy rains battered the island on the weekend.

The torrential rains that set off landslides and flooding, damaging roads and other infrastructure across several parishes, are expected to incur a repair bill of more than $1 billion.

Minister of Local Government and Rural Development Desmond McKenzie made the revelation to Television Jamaica on Monday night.

Minister of Local Government and Rural Development Desmond McKenzie made the revelation to Television Jamaica on Monday night, but that toll could rise as assessments pour in.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness is expected to make a statement to the nation today in Parliament on the damage estimate and recovery plan.

Meanwhile, local geologists are advising residents in Lindo’s Gap in St Andrew East Rural and other hilly areas prone to landslides to consider relocation based on the imminent danger.

Director of the Mona Geoinfomatics Institute, Dr Parris Lyew-Ayee Jr, made the recommendation on Monday, saying the relocation exercise was necessary to preserve lives.

He said that the soils in such areas are susceptible to land slippage whenever it rains heavily.

Lyew-Ayee is pressing the Government to enforce laws that give the authorities the power to order persons to relocate from flood-prone areas.

The geology expert argued that weak soil in elevated environments would get super-saturated with heavy rainfall and be prone to the effects of gravity.

“These environments, by any measure, would be marginal environments. There should not be developments in these areas the same way there shouldn’t be developments along gully banks. I am not implying anything social, political, racial; just pure science,” he maintained.

“... Hilly environments with that kind of slope condition are marginal. What I would say to people who live there is to move,” he insisted.

Professor of sedimentary geology at The UWI, Simon Mitchell, echoed similar advice to that given by his university colleague.

He said the shale and conglomerate structure that constitutes these lands are “not very stable and are easily moved, particularly when it is wet”.

The upshot of Mitchell’s cure for the problem - declaring them no-build zones - presents another problem for policymakers, who are grappling with a social problem of a third of the 2.7 million population living in informal settlements, many of them vulnerable to severe weather.

“What is really needed is to ensure that when people build, they don’t do so in places where there are major problems with the geology. The trouble is that people don’t have a long history of what happens to an area,” Mitchell said.

jason.cross@gleanerjm.com