Photo: Men remove an item of discarded furniture from a yard of a Greenvale Park, La Horquetta resident yesterday. Photo by Abraham Diaz.
Police were put on alert yesterday afternoon, after reports that groups of men posing as volunteers offering to remove damaged household items in Greenvale, La Horquetta, were in fact imposters who were stealing from the flood-hit residents.
Officers said these would-be volunteers have been going to homes where furniture had been scattered about and picking out items which they could salvage, packing them onto waiting trucks and driving off with them, often without the owners of the homes even aware. If by chance, they are challenged at any time, they claim to be working for various volunteer group attached to state agencies tasked with helping the residents to remove the items.
Several residents yesterday told Guardian Media they initially genuinely believed the men were volunteers aiding with the discarding of damaged furniture and household items, only to find out later that they had in fact been swindled. Others, however, caught on to the ruse because they had moved out their furniture during clean-up activities and were told to wait for bonafide officials from the Housing Development Corporation and Ministry of Social Development to visit to make assessments.
As a result of the reports, police officers were a bit more stringent concerning entry into the area yesterday afternoon.
Minister of National Security Stuart Young was made aware of the situation and said he would advise officers to be alert.
However, there were benevolent and genuine volunteers still present in the community helping the hundreds of residents who had been devastated by the weekend flooding.
One of the was three-time Soca Monarch Aaron “Voice” St. Louis who visited the area with a crew to hand out supplies. He promised to return today after realising the scope of the devastation in the community.
“We coming back with power washers and gonna help them with manpower,” Voice told Guardian Media after giving out the supplied he went into the community with.
Winsie Ann Cuffie and her charity group, Winsie’s Treasured Hearts, also visited the flood-stricken area and distributed food and other supplies.
Efforts to contact Police Commissioner Gary Griffith to find out if he intended to implement any extra security measures in the community as a result of yesterday’s situation were unsuccessful as he did not answer his cellphone. However, the TTPS communications department said they had no official reports of any such incidents yesterday.
However, National Security Minister Stuart Yong raised the issue of citizens trying to take more than their fair share of relief items during a joint press conference yesterday. He said there was one case where volunteers had been confronted while taking items to relief centres in St Helena by affected citizens who wanted to take relief items from them. However, Young said the police were called in immediately and the situation was dealt with.
“Persons please, don’t take advantage of the situation. We are getting reports of persons … it’s gone beyond double dipping relief supplies,” Young said.
“They’re still persons who have not yet gotten what they need and we are trying to get those resources and that relief to them, let that happen them. So that’s what the incident was, but the police were very quick in dealing with it, there was no untoward incident, no violence etcetera and we quickly put things in place to deal with it.”
- by Peter Christopher