Having been given the all clear to leave the emergency shelters, residents of Owia have found that trying to settle back into their homes has turned up one major challenge after another, prompting some to ask why were they ordered back before key services in the community were restored.
No pipe-borne water to many homes, no functioning clinic or police station, ash-filled roads and no Internet service in some homes are among the main issues plaguing residents who staged a protest in the village on Wednesday, calling for the Government to do better.
“It is not a good thing to be back home with a messy road, the clinic is dirty, no service at the clinic… I think they should send people here to clean the clinic, let the service of the clinic be operated before people could be back here. That is what I am disappointed of.
I am disappointed in that. You cannot send people here, we are not animals, we are human… and we need better service. Please authority, we need better service,” one female resident of the area said during a protest at Owia broadcast Live on Facebook on Wednesday.
Another resident told SEARCHLIGHT that while some residents have water, others don’t. “At my home, we never got water, up to now we don’t have water. But my in- laws next door have water and you would find that throughout the community. In the case of some persons, they would have water this morning, but the pressure would start dropping as the lines get blocked again….”
The homeowner said while she has cable tv service, she does not have Internet service. “You find that throughout the village, some homes have cable and Internet, some do not. But they (Flow) are there working, they are trying their best.
When Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves made the announcement authorising their return, he said the displaced residents were being asked to leave the shelters by August 23 so that repairs could be done to the schools they were occupying in time for the reopening of schools on October 4.
Owia, located along the north-eastern coast of St Vincent at the foothills of La Soufriere was one of the villages that experienced the worst of the volcano’s wrath during its explosive eruptions which spanned April 9 to 23. The volcano dumped tons of ash on the community, causing some roofs and buildings to collapse from the weight. Then when Hurricane Elsa roared over the north of St Vincent on July 2 with sustained winds of over 75 miles per hour, several roofs that had survived the volcano finally fell victim to the storm.
Among the buildings in Owia that lost roofs and sustained major damage were the police station and the clinic. SEARCHLIGHT spoke with Minister of Health St Clair ‘Jimmy’ Prince and Commissioner of Police (COP) Colin John, both of whom said repair work on these buildings will begin this weekend.
The health minister said all the clinics north of the Rabacca Dry River sustained major damage to their roofs and it took some time to do the assessment on all the buildings. “The ash fall also damaged doors, windows, equipment and furniture,” Prince said, adding that BRAGSA (the Roads Buildings and General Services Authority) has already identified contractors to do the repairs and they have started to mobilise.
“Work will begin in earnest from this weekend and should take two to three weeks to complete [the clinic] at Owia. The Ministry is doing all in its power to return the delivery of Health service to normalcy in the red and orange zones.”
COP John said even before the Prime Minister issued the all clear for residents to return to Owia last month, the Royal St Vincent and the Grenadines Police Force (RSVGPF) had been seeking alternative accommodation in Owia for the police officers, but no suitable building had been found. He said after an assessment by BRAGSA and the RSVGPF, it was determined that repairing the police station was the most feasible option. He said work on the building should begin within a day or two.
The COP said in the meantime, that police officers normally stationed at Owia have been housed at the Sandy Bay police station. “We have provided them with adequate transportation so that they can police the area from the Sandy Bay district and Owia district.”
The CWSA told SEARCHLIGHT yesterday that their restoration work in the area had been delayed, firstly by two months of restricted red zone access and secondly by the CWSA having to await BRAGSA’s clearing of up to three feet of ash from the main roadways.
“Unfortunately for CWSA, this act of roadway clearing and scraping resulted in inadvertent breakage to CWSA’s pipelines along these same roads and this allowed ash to enter into several sections of pipeline resulting in a series of blocked pipelines. This situation was especially so in the Villages of Owia and Point and to a lesser extent in Old Sandy Bay,” General Manager Garth Saunders said in a written statement.
He said although the CWSA temporarily restored the Owia intake and transmission pipelines and main water supply to Point and Owia in early August 2021, the supply to pockets of residents and to individual homes has not yet been fully restored due to blockages resulting from ash having being sucked into the broken pipelines.
Saunders said the teams from the CWSA have had to make daily visits to those areas doing house to house inspections and flushing of individual connections to homes and buildings. See video of ash being flushed:
He added that the CWSA could not have been made aware of the extent of the blockages until the residents began returning to their homes and lodging their complaints with the Company.
“The CWSA expects to continue its house-tohouse inspections and clearing of blockages during September utilizing additional manpower from neighbouring districts.”
The Owia residents also want more people from their community employed by BRAGSA in the clean up effort. “It will give me joy tomorrow if I could see or hear some of these young fellas here, …get a job even if it is five days, two weeks, to help clean the [police] station, help clean the clinic, help, to help clean the school. It will give me joy….,” one man said during Wednesday’s protest.
Another resident told Searchlight yesterday that people are being brought from the neighbouring villages of Sandy Bay and Point to do cleaning in Owia when young men from Owia are willing and able.
She said that before the all clear had been given for residents to return home, a group of villagers, led by one Dale Medica, had gone from house to house, cleaning people’s yards and they did a wonderful job.
“They cleaned 90 per cent of the yards in Owia, and were compensated with funds raised through New Democratic Party caretaker Shevern John,” the resident said. She wondered whether the residents were being overlooked for work because the village is perceived as being an NDP stronghold. She however called for the roads to be washed to get rid of the dust as had been done in other communities.
The general cleanup of the area is being co-ordinated by BRAGSA.
The one area about which there were no complaints was the electricity supply. Praises flowed for the St Vincent Electricity Services Limited (VINLEC) who residents said did the best for them. “We have light, we are drinking cold water…. I want to thank VINLEC for all they have done. They were outstanding,” said a male resident.