Sea rocks Vigilance

By Gitanjali Singh
Stabroek News
November 24, 1999

Wanted: hovercraft! Vehicles travelling along the East Coast Demerara highway yesterday were once again slowed to a virtual snail's pace by the water from the Atlantic Ocean which overtopped the weak sea defence at Turkeyen. One month ago motorists had to endure similar conditions caused by a high tide in the area whose powerful waves the boulders placed on the shore proved to be no match for. (Aubrey Crawford photo)

Waves battered the sea defence at Vigilance, East Coast Demerara in the wee hours of Monday morning, knocking off 40 feet of the wall and forcing residents to cut through the secondary defence dam to release the water into the drainage canal and avoid flooding as well as a further erosion of the sea wall.

Two 20-ft sections of the coping wall were toppled, leaving in their wake a vulnerable enforcement dam bracing the sea defence structure at that point.

"This entire sea defence section should have been rebuilt by now as it has outlived its usefulness. The reinforcement rods are all rotten and there are a host of cracks along the wall," Region Four Chairman, Allan Munroe, said yesterday at the site pointing out the rotted rods and the cracks in the wall.

A unit from the government sea defence team was mobilising material to start emergency works today and the form of the coping wall was being constructed at Plaisance yesterday.

Not more than a mile away from the breach, at Strathspey, the same crew from the government's sea defence unit had been working on four leaks, not suspecting for a moment that the section of the wall at Vigilance was vulnerable.

"We did not expect this wall to go," Assanah Winston, supervisor of the patch-work team told Stabroek News, a sentiment echoed by his senior superintendent, Mike Lall.

Lall indicated that it was not possible to start the emergency works yesterday as the tide was washing (rising) and would not permit the cement casting necessary for the repairs.

A high tide of ten feet nine inches was expected at 3.00 pm yesterday and this was expected to send more water into the area behind the sea defence structure. However, the facade pond which was flooded is being relieved by the drainage canal as the secondary sea defence dam separating the pond and sea defence from residents was cut to facilitate an outflow of water.

The area under the wall at the point of the breach has eroded and Munroe as well as Winston noted that if there was not quick enough action, there could be a further collapse in the sea defence structure which is threatened by the cracks along it.

Munroe was awakened at around 4.00 am on Monday with news of the breach and he alerted Lall and the Sea Defence Board. A quick response was forthcoming. However, it was a former sea defence worker who took the astute decision and action to cut the dam and save the area from being weakened by the flood.

Munroe holds the view that the entire sea defence structure on the East Coast needs to be rebuilt given its age and the fact that the wave action was harsher against the walls which are showing signs of being weakened.

A recent Dutch study criticised the lack of a structured approach by the government to rehabilitating the sea defence facilities, noting that the government had only been reacting to breaches and spent three times as much in financial resources this way.

The study also contended that the country was losing the war against the sea as the pace at which sea defence rehabilitation was being done was much too slow to cope with the deterioration taking place in the sector.

It made a host of recommendations to correct the deficiencies in the sea defence sector and the government has decided to adopt some of them, but it is not clear how soon they would be implemented.

Winston, who has worked on patching many areas of vulnerable sea defence structures, said that almost the entire length of sea defence in Region Four was under threat. He said that the sea defence unit had 18 workers in two gangs and these two gangs were unable to cope with the workload.

He said in the past year alone his gang had done emergency works in a number of areas including Plaisance, Ogle, Montrose, Turkeyen, Relief, Supply, Craig, Bagotstown, Strathspey, Mahaica (Cambridge, Helena, Supply, Unity), Paradise and Mon Repos.

Overtopping of sea defences was reported yesterday at several points along the coast and the East Coast Demerara highway in the vicinity of the University of Guyana road was flooded yesterday afternoon.

A © page from:
Guyana: Land of Six Peoples