Sabotage at Belladrum bridge by Stacey Davidson and Calvin Marshall
Guyana Chronicle
February 10, 2002

THE main bridge at Belladrum, West Coast Berbice was burnt early yesterday morning in what police said was an act of sabotage linked to the post-elections unrest that started along the East Coast Demerara last week.

The bridge is on the main road linking Georgetown to the port at Rosignol and the semi-destruction threw normal traffic into chaos.

But officials moved swiftly to begin rebuilding the bridge which was set on fire from its planks underneath.

A part of the bridge went up in flames early yesterday morning and the police subsequently cordoned off the area, which prevented the flow of traffic.

Persons had to use a side dam and then a narrow bridge to get access to the road for transportation to head to work or to conduct their business at places along the road on either side of the bridge.

Later in the day, the bridge was opened and mini-buses and cars were traversing on the unaffected side of the bridge.

Residents said they awoke to find the area surrounded by policemen, not realising that the bridge had been razed.

Mr Patrick King, a villager, said he had travelled on the bridge at midnight and it was not destroyed then.

He knew about the fire when some police officers went to his neighbour's home to borrow a pump, he said.

King said someone must have gone into the village and set the bridge afire to create a bad image on the residents of Belladrum.

The residents are baffled as to why someone would commit such an act to destroy the community.

He said the villagers had never experienced anything like this before.

Belladrum was also at the centre of a rumour in Georgetown Monday that four men had been killed in the village.

Police and residents said no one had been killed in Belladram.

As a result of the rumours Monday, Police Commissioner Laurie Lewis placed massages on TV stations advising that no one had been killed in Belladrum.

Repairs on the bridge began yesterday afternoon after a team of technicians was dispatched by the Ministry of Public Works and Communication to assess the damage.

The technical team headed by Mr Walter Willis took the necessary measurements of the bridge.

When the Chronicle visited the site, workmen were busy clearing the debris and resurfacing the edges to strengthen the southern section of the bridge which was not damaged, to allow heavy-duty vehicles to cross.

Public Relations Adviser to the Ministry of Public Works and Communication, Mr Ajay Baksh said the bridge will be rebuilt with steel to guard against similar occurrences in the future.

He said materials, which included steel beams have been sorted out and were to have been transported to the area yesterday afternoon, but this will be done today, because the employees feared they might have been caught up in any post election disturbances on their way to the area.

The Courtney Benn Contracting Services firm was awarded the contract to rebuild the bridge, which should be completed later this week, Baksh noted.

He said Minister of Transport and Hydraulics, Mr Anthony Xavier has appealed to persons that if they are aware of the culprits who destroyed the bridge, to plead with them to desist from committing this, because money budgeted for the construction of projects has to be spent to repair damaged structures and residents will stand to lose.

Reports of the burning of the Belladrum bridge put a damper on the travelling public in Berbice, especially on the eastern side of the Berbice River.

After the news broke, scores of mini-bus operators and commuters going to the city or other places on the East Coast Demerara were forced to abandon their trips.

Between 6:00 to 8:00 hrs is the time when activities usually pick up at the New Amsterdam and Rosignol stellings for crossings by ferry vessels across the river on a working day.

But with the bridge sabotaged, the atmosphere at that time yesterday was like it is on holidays.

The long lines of mini-buses, cars, trucks and other vehicles, passengers queuing for tickets and frenzied bus operators and touts for patronage were non-existent.

The two ferry boats plying the Berbice River crossing did so with an almost empty lower deck, while commuters were mostly school children.

On the 14:45 hrs (2:45 p.m.) crossing from Rosignol, only 10 vehicles were on board and eight were waiting to cross from New Amsterdam.

Reports reaching the Chronicle said that a family travelling to the Cheddi Jagan International Airport, Timehri had to take off their shoes to cross the trench at Belladrum and join another vehicle on the road on the other side of the bridge to get to the airport.

Persons who were caught in the dilemma at that West Coast Berbice village crossed in small boats to join other public transportation for the remainder of their journey.

Business was been severely interrupted for many sawmillers, market vendors with cash crops and other produce who travel daily to ply their trade.

Berbice business people said they have lost millions of dollars in trade since the unrest began last week on the East Coast Demerara when PNC/R supporters blocked roads and damaged bridges after results showed the party had lost the elections.