As the Government undertakes a geological study into the land movement in Princes Town and environs, the Ministry of Works and Transport is warning citizens that they will need to rethink how their homes are built in those areas.
And Works Minister Rohan Sinanan sought to remind the public that while his ministry battles the ever-growing number of landslips in that area, the priority is to address the damage to the roadway and not their homes, many of which experts within the ministry said were built without consideration for the topography of the land.
But this story does not begin in Sinanan’s office on the corner of London and Richmond streets in Port-of-Spain.
This tale of depression, both in terms of land movement and emotions, begins 64.6 kilometres away at Lengua Road in Princes Town where a frustrated Robin (last name withheld) took us on a walk to the back of his home.
To get there, you have to venture past three snarling dogs on leashes and a duck pen with a curious group before you see a massive crater that has already claimed a concrete victim.
“You see what the land do to Mr Ali house, he had to leave, and all these houses.” Robin motioned to a collection of wooden and concrete structures, “all these houses in trouble.”
“These people had to move out here,” Robin informed us as he stood next to what appeared to be a recently abandoned home. “These people them move out, two old people living here their whole life, they had to go and live by a relative in Point (Fortin). The people couldn’t even live out their life in their house, they had to run.”
Robin said whenever there was heavy rainfall, the massive crack that is running through their land becomes a waterway and he said he would not be surprised if the earth that is supporting the community only has one wet season left.
“To be living like this, this is bad, government people keep coming and coming and nothing is being done, Government ain’t doing nothing for nobody, come and try and help people situation nah man.”
You could not help but feel for him with the helplessness in his voice. Faith brought us to hear his story. A wrong turn off St Croix Road in the search for the now-infamous Mandingo Road landslip took us to Lengua Road, or rather what should be Lengua Road considering that the roadway suddenly collapsed, just like what their Mandingo neighbours are experiencing.
Not as bad but still inaccessible to cars.
Residents said since the road shifted and collapsed in 2017 they have been inspecting their homes daily. Each new crack brings a new worry.
“Some nights you can’t sleep especially when rain falls,” said another resident, Robin Singh. His rather large two-storey home is beginning to lose the land underneath that acts as the foundation.
He couldn’t help but find the humour in his misfortune when he spoke with us. “You see that driveway?” Singh added with a wry smile, “that is a floating driveway,” as he pointed showing us that most of the land from under the infrastructure was gone.
Other residents told us that due to the road being condemned the taxi fare to Princes Town has gone up to $40 from $9. Jemma Khan told us the other day an ambulance was not aware that the road was impassable.
“The driver say they will try to use the other road, and we had to give him the bad news.”
The other road is Mandingo Road. As seen on television broadcasts in the past, it may be the worst landslip in the area. Claiming one house and threatening others. Residents there said given its severity they thought the Works Ministry would have moved with some alacrity, but weeks have gone by and the problem is only getting worse.
THE PROBLEM IN THAT AREA…
Minister Sinanan was very accommodating when we asked for a response to these issues. In fact, an hour after we made the call the minister not only made himself available but summoned his directors to the interview as well.
“I really want to explain this thing properly so people will understand,” the minister said.
In his conference room, the minister got to the point, “The problem in the area is really the soil type and the fact that most of the roads in the area were bridal roads meaning they were tracks that evolved over time and they were all built on cliffs, no foundation, couple that with soil movement and that spells of a disaster.”
He said homes were built without thought to the characteristics of the area.
“A lot of people built their houses next to the road, on the ridge, I don’t know if they
did soil test, I don’t think any of them would have done soil test to determine the type of foundation, but it doesn’t matter if you have land movement it would definitely affect your house.”
The minister wearily pulled out some pieces of paper and said in the Lengua area there were 68 landslips and in total there are 186 landslips in the area. Their landslip programme only catered for 25 with the money they had available.
And while both Lengua and Mandingo were put on that list of 25 at the expense of two other landslips, the minister said residents cannot expect to just see workers moving in to fix it the next day. Sinanan said they are trying to understand what they’re up against in that area.
“If it is the whole area is moving it makes no sense you build a retaining wall in this area here and six months down the road the land continues to move, the retaining wall will move and we find that happening throughout Trinidad. When we go to certain landslips we see three walls built before so it doesn’t make sense to build another, even if it means cutting a new road because it makes no sense if the entire area is moving to spend more money in the area.”
The ministry’s chief technical officer Navin Ramsingh said the ministry has commissioned a geological study with the Ministry of Energy and geologists to determine if there is a fault line there. Ramsingh said the ministry was also working on a policy or guidelines to help homeowners who build in such areas.
The officials said people may assume that the land is not at fault because of how long they have been living there but they may not factor in the evolution of vehicular traffic, accumulation of groundwater and additions they have made to their properties over the years.
But while the ministry may develop a guideline on building, they will not be compensating anyone for their damaged homes nor would they be doing much to save those on the edge.
“We cannot protect people’s homes, we have to make sure the road remains passable and if the road has to be closed, the road has to be closed.”
The officials said the shoring up work would, however, slow the damage being done to the surrounding homes.
In the case of the Mandingo Road landslip, Director of Highways, Anil Mohansingh said soil tests have been done and the tendering process should be done in under three weeks. He said in five weeks he expects ministry officials on the ground to begin work.
Lengua residents will have to wait longer as the Programme Director for Bridges and Landslips, Mahadeo Jagdeo said, “In four months we should begin the tendering process, get the necessary approvals from Cabinet and the funds from the Ministry of Finance so from September we should see some activity.”
Something Robin said to us resonated when we heard the four-month timeline.
“One more good piece of rain and all of we go sink, you know.”
Be viewing Unspun at 7.30 tonight on CNC3 for more.