Conservancy dam breached
Cane Grove flooded
Stabroek News
November 4, 2001

A national disaster area has been declared in the Mahaica Creek after water from the East Demerara Conservancy which was breached in the wee hours of yesterday morning flooded the village of Cane Grove.

This breach will, however, not affect the water supply to residents in the city as levels in the conservancy are said to be steady.

Contacted by Stabroek News yesterday, Operations Manager of the Georgetown Sewerage and Water Commissioners David Dewar, confirmed that the levels at the Georgetown end of the conservancy had held, and that checks conducted on it yesterday afternoon had shown no drop.

Meanwhile President Bharrat Jagdeo has called in the army to offer assistance in trying to seal the breach which has left approximately 4000 residents or 700-odd families at the mercy of rising water levels.

A statement from the government yesterday said that the water conservancy dam had collapsed resulting in farming and residential areas being immersed in water.

According to the statement, Ministers of Agriculture and Regional Development, Navin Chandarpal and Harripersaud Nokta respectively, along with officials from the Drainage and Irrigation Board (D&IB) and engineers had gone into the affected area to assess the damage.

Speaking with this newspaper later in the afternoon, Public Relations Consultant to the President Robert Persaud stated that President Jagdeo had gone to the community where he had walked through the flooded areas speaking to residents. He further said that the head of state had viewed the area of the breach and the flooded community from the air and had promised residents a full enquiry into the causes of the breakaway. To this end he had requested that all the relevant agencies submit reports to him.

Residents of the Mahaica community and workers from

GUYSUCO work to install one of the mobile units to be

used in draining land flooded by the collapse of a dam

in the East Demerara Conservancy yesterday.

(Photo by Aubrey Crawford)

A release from the Government Information Agency (GINA), said that the flood water was causing a widening of the breach with residents reporting a number of weak spots along the dam.

According to Persaud, a task force had been established to coordinate the relief effort involving various departments of government, the army, police, civil defence commission and the Neighbourhood Democratic Council (NDC).

Minister of Health, Leslie Ramsammy and a team from his ministry in the area have been assigned the task of moving sick and pregnant women from the area, while Minister of Housing and Water, Sheik Baksh has been tasked with responsibility of securing alternative housing for those affected by the flooding.

Minister Nokta was said to be working with the NDC to offer assistance to residents by way of relief while Agriculture Minister Chandarpal was reported to be working in collaboration with the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GUYSUCO), which has provided three mobile pumps apart from assisting with the sealing of the breach in collaboration with the D&IB.

Efforts by the disciplined services are being coordinated by Minister of Home Affairs Ronald Gajraj.

Contacted yesterday Minister of Transport and Hydraulics Anthony Xavier said that the resources of the Ministry of Public Works had been put at the disposal of the D&IB and personnel working on sealing the breach. This included the services of the ministry's engineer Walter Willis.

According to GINA it was expected that the flow of water would be halted as a consequence of round-the-clock work by last night or early this morning.

According to residents of the Mahaica Creek village with whom Stabroek News spoke, they awoke to see water rising steadily in their community and later discovered that there was a breach in the conservancy dam.

According to one resident, he had eaten breakfast in the bottom flat of his home before going to see the breach, and upon his return water was covering the entire bottom house including the kitchen located at the ground level.

He feared the worst for his garden, livestock and seed paddy, the last of which he had raised above the water level, but which still could absorb moisture from the damp surroundings.

By midday the level of the water had risen several feet with yards and bottom flats of homes being completely covered in water which was still rising.

The water was said to be inundating the village at a rate of about six inches per hour.

When Stabroek News arrived in the village yesterday morning, water which had already flooded sections of south Cane Grove was flowing across the main road threatening the northern half of the community. Residents had had to move their livestock from their yards to higher ground either in their homes or on any raised area that could be found.

One resident told this newspaper about the flooding which had followed the last breach some 50-rods from the present one. That breach had occurred 33 years ago, and there had been losses of crops and livestock.

Chandrawatie Mahadeo, a widow, said that she had to reap some of the produce from her garden because it was being submerged. This produce, along with the livestock she rears, is her only source of income, she said.

She had been residing in the area for the last 20 years and had no experience of flooding on this scale. This was confirmed by other villagers.

At the site of the breach, Samuel La Fleur, a local resident who was in charge of overseeing the dam, told reporters that he had been informed that the breach had occurred at around 03:00 hrs.

According to La Fleur the breach would be sealed by driving sheet piles following which water would be pumped from the land into the nearby Mahaica river.

There had been no evidence, he said, of a likely breach when the dam had been traversed the day before and it must have occurred suddenly.

BK International had been awarded the contract for strengthening the dam, and work on it had been underway for some time.

Residents with whom this newspaper spoke, pointed to where earth and bamboo mangrove had been dug from the back of the dam, and deposited on the top of it in order to raise its height. Erosion at the front of the dam was clearly visible.

GDF Colonels Edward Collins and John Lewis who flew to the site by helicopter yesterday, told reporters that President Jagdeo had made a request for assistance from the army.

According to Collins, they had spoken to engineers from BK International on the ground who had told them that materials had been mobilised to seal the breach.

Meanwhile a press release from the Ministry of Health last evening advised residents in the flooded community to boil all drinking water or use bleach to purify it while avoiding meddling in the floodwater to prevent water borne or skin diseases.

According to the release, several makeshift tents had been established in the area along with a medical boat in the event of any medical emergencies.

An assessment had been carried out by a medical team headed by Minister Ramsammy, which included Chief Medical Officer, Dr Rudolph Cummings and Director, Regional Health Services, Dr Khemdat Umadat along with area medex Deryk Khanai, but no medical illnesses had so far been reported.

The release went on to say that the army was on standby to evacuate those residents severely affected by the floods and they would be provided with alternative sleeping accommodation and food.

A subsequent release from the health ministry announced that the Cane Grove Health Centre would operate temporarily from the area primary school with an ambulance being supplied as of today in the event of emergencies. A team of doctors would visit the area today.