Flood victims kicked out shelter

Date: 
Wednesday, October 24, 2018 - 12:30

Sev­er­al fam­i­lies at Ram­lal Trace, off Be­ju­cal Road, Cunu­pia, say they were kicked out of the Munroe Road Hin­du School - a des­ig­nat­ed flood shel­ter - on Mon­day, af­ter they sought shel­ter there on Sat­ur­day.

An­toinette Jaikaran, 58, told Guardian Me­dia she and her fam­i­ly were told they need­ed to leave the school’s com­pound as clean-up crews were go­ing in to sani­tise the com­pound for the re­sump­tion of class­es yes­ter­day. She said she was told to leave by Ch­agua­nas West Mem­ber of Par­lia­ment Gan­ga Singh.

“Gan­ga Singh said we need to leave the school be­cause it had to be sani­tised for school on Tues­day - he told us we had to leave, but I said we have nowhere to go. He said take what­ev­er we used from Sat­ur­day night - like the mat­tress­es, clothes, what­ev­er we used and we would have to leave. I get some­body to take the mat­tress­es to a friend of mine to leave it there be­cause we couldn’t bring it home, it would get wet up,” Jaikaran said.

A frus­trat­ed, Jaikaran said she re­turned to her home and tried to be­gin clean-up op­er­a­tions. But when it start­ed rain­ing again, her fright­ened daugh­ters con­vinced her they should re­turn to the school for the night.

Jaikaran said she dropped them off at the school and re­turned home to con­tin­ue clean­ing up, but her daugh­ter Tr­isha said when they got in­to the school Singh told them they could not stay.

“Singh walked up to us and said’ ‘What are you all do­ing here?’ So I told him the wa­ter is still in our house, we just burst the walls to let it run out and we can’t stay there so we came back just to spend the night there,” Tr­isha said.

“He asked, ‘Where are your mat­tress­es, we gave you all mat­tress­es al­ready?’ So I told him we had moved the mat­tress­es when they told us move in the morn­ing, so we put it by one of our friends up the road. He said, ‘Well if you have no mat­tress, we can’t keep you here.’ My sis­ter told him it wasn’t a prob­lem, we could ask some­one to bring the mat­tress­es back for us so we could at least spend the night there. And then he said, ‘No, the bet­ter thing to do is go to the tem­ple be­cause the school al­ready sani­tised and it needs to be opened to­mor­row.’”

Tr­isha said she felt em­bar­rassed and de­hu­man­ised by Singh’s words.

“He treat­ed us like we were an­i­mals...we felt re­al bad know­ing we couldn’t stay home and we couldn’t stay there.”

Sev­er­al hous­es away, John (not his re­al name) was al­so fum­ing, claim­ing his fam­i­ly re­ceived sim­i­lar de­hu­man­is­ing treat­ment. When Guardian Me­dia vis­it­ed the fam­i­ly yes­ter­day morn­ing, they were just start­ing to clear out their wa­ter-logged be­long­ings. Thick slush cov­ered their floors and dur­ing the in­ter­view, as John was car­ry­ing out items from the house he slipped and fell. His wor­ried fam­i­ly mem­bers rushed to his side and helped him up.

Around 11 am, a group of Good Samar­i­tans ar­rived to help the fam­i­ly pres­sure wash their walls and floors.

“We nev­er thought the wa­ter was go­ing to come so high and by the time we re­alised what was go­ing on it was too late to save much of our stuff. Sat­ur­day evening, my wife and daugh­ter were stand­ing in waist-height wa­ter cook­ing in the kitchen be­cause we had noth­ing to eat and we were starv­ing.”

John’s wife said with no choice left, she washed rice which had been con­t­a­m­i­nat­ed by flood­wa­ter and cooked it for her fam­i­ly.

“I didn’t have a choice, I have chil­dren and grand­chil­dren, we couldn’t just starve,” she said.

When a boat fi­nal­ly came to res­cue the fam­i­ly they were tak­en to the Munroe Road Hin­du School.

“When we got there, Gan­ga Singh was there, he said he was co­or­di­nat­ing the re­lief. We were giv­en mat­tress­es to sleep on and we each got one suit of clothes but when we asked for more to bathe and change, they told us there was none,” John said.

He said he and Jaikaran ap­pealed to a mem­ber of the pub­lic for clean un­der­wear for the women and chil­dren.

“This man came and we begged him to bring some new un­der­wear, at least for the ladies and the chil­dren, but when he came back with the bag, the school’s care­tak­er took it from him and put it in a stock room. We nev­er got it to use.”

His wife said she was forced to bathe and wear the same clothes she had on be­fore.

“I turned my un­der­wear over and put it on when I bathe, they didn’t have to do peo­ple that. If we had a choice, you think we would have gone to that shel­ter and take that kind of treat­ment?” she asked.

John said on Mon­day his fam­i­ly was al­so told they need­ed to leave the shel­ter.

“I told Singh that we couldn’t come home and sleep in the house be­cause it was wet and stink but he said we had no choice, we couldn’t stay in the school any­more. They told us take the mat­tress­es we slept on and they gave us a bag with a small bleach, a small de­ter­gent, a small dis­in­fec­tant and a small fly spray and told us go home and clean up.”

John said when he re­turned home there was still wa­ter in­side his house. His fam­i­ly of sev­en piled on­to one bed and slept to­geth­er in one of the bed­rooms, their doors un­able to lock be­cause of the wa­ter dam­age.

“The doors gone through, we lost al­most every­thing in this house and Singh treat us like we was try­ing to get some­thing free from him. He didn’t have a right to treat peo­ple so.”

John said his grand­chil­dren cried on Sat­ur­day night af­ter be­ing turned down when they asked for a meal.

“They tell the chil­dren they couldn’t get the food un­til they had boxed out to car­ry for peo­ple in oth­er ar­eas.”

He said when the chil­dren were fi­nal­ly giv­en meals, he re­fused to eat.

“I worked my whole life and build for my fam­i­ly, if the wa­ter didn’t come up so high and flood us like this I would have stayed in my house and pro­vide for my fam­i­ly. They made us feel like scav­engers in that place, I told them keep the rest of food, I didn’t want any.”

How­ev­er, de­spite the way they were treat­ed while at the shel­ter, his chil­dren did what they could to as­sist in pack­ag­ing items for oth­er flood vic­tims.

Ch­agua­nas West MP Gan­ga Singh has dis­missed al­le­ga­tions he treat­ed Be­ju­cal res­i­dents bad­ly while they were stay­ing at the Munroe Road Hin­du School shel­ter af­ter flee­ing flood­wa­ters in their homes on Sat­ur­day.

In an in­ter­view with Guardian Me­dia yes­ter­day, Singh said the com­plaints were a case of “more greed than need.” He said he arranged for the school to be opened as a shel­ter and the re­lief ef­forts pro­vid­ed to af­fect­ed res­i­dents were done by his team in co­or­di­na­tion with Trade and In­dus­try Min­is­ter Paula Gopee-Scoon. He said the Of­fice of Dis­as­ter Pre­pared­ness and Man­age­ment did not as­sist in any way.

“We got mat­tress­es from a pri­vate donor and we pro­vid­ed them with the mat­tress­es, then a lot of wa­ter came and to­geth­er with Gopee-Scoon, noth­ing came from ODPM, but ODPM had a rep­re­sen­ta­tive who they felt ought to have been in con­trol and that is the prob­lem,” Singh said.

“There is a la­dy from the area who felt they ought to be in con­trol - so they stayed there Sat­ur­day whole day, Sat­ur­day night, Sun­day whole day, re­mem­ber the school is a school and the wa­ter had re­ced­ed so the clean-up start­ed.”

He said he was firm but kind to those who stayed in the shel­ter.

“I had a meet­ing in the morn­ing and I said, ‘All the beds that you have utilised you take them home, you have clean­ing sup­plies, you start to clean up your prop­er­ty be­cause we have to sani­tise for the school to take place. The na­ture of the en­vi­ron­ment was that peo­ple were emo­tion­al­ly charged, so you have to be fair­ly clear of how long you are go­ing to stay. They left in the morn­ing and they were fine. In fact, their par­ents stayed in their home but what you had was a rep­re­sen­ta­tive claim­ing to be from ODPM, one trou­ble­mak­er in the com­mu­ni­ty try­ing to as­sert au­thor­i­ty in the ar­eas and we dealt with that.”

He said those in the shel­ter were giv­en all that they need­ed dur­ing their time there.

“We were very clear and very help­ful to all of them, but there are lim­its to what you can do and how you ap­pre­ci­ate what the fa­cil­i­ty can do. I don’t know what to say about their al­le­ga­tions, what I do know is that you had a lev­el of greed rather than need.”

Singh said the items that were do­nat­ed were al­so dis­trib­uted amongst sev­er­al com­mu­ni­ties, in­clud­ing Ca­roni, Harlem and War­renville.

Asked who made the de­ci­sion to close the shel­ter and send the fam­i­lies home, Singh replied, “The de­ci­sion to do that was mine be­cause we had to move out…but I didn’t close the shel­ter, what I did was to move out the re­sources out of the area. If the ODPM want­ed to bring peo­ple and sus­tain the shel­ter, that is their busi­ness but there was no de­ci­sion to close the shel­ter - the de­ci­sion I said was for me to move out with my vol­un­tary team.”

Con­tact­ed on the is­sue yes­ter­day, Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter An­tho­ny Gar­cia, who gave the word to con­vert sev­er­al schools across the coun­try in­to shel­ters for the pe­ri­od, said he spoke to the school su­per­vi­sor for the area who told him the school was still be­ing used as a shel­ter. How­ev­er, he said he would in­ves­ti­gate whether the Ma­ha Sab­ha board had re­scind­ed their ap­proval for the school to be used as a shel­ter.

- by Sharlene Rampersad

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