‘Mommy, mi ready in case water come in’ Hatfield residents brace for hurricane season

HATFIELD, Westmoreland — Her eight-year-old son Christiano Beckford has a bag packed in case he has to run for his life and their bed rests on four concrete blocks in the event that the house is flooded. So, as the hurricane season opens, Patricia Spence of Hatfield in Westmoreland is a nervous wreck.

For the last 30 years she has battled flood waters, she said.

“Last year, in either late August or early September, we had rain whole day and whole night. At the time I had a seven-year-old, 14-year-old, [and a] 21-year-old, and I had to send them away for [their] safety. We couldn’t [make it] pass [the road] so I had to send them further on the main where it is a little bit better,” Spence told the Jamaica Observer.

She recounted how her elderly mother, Ruthlyn, ran through the community in the wee hours of the morning, begging people to evacuate their houses because the water was quickly rising. By 2:00 am, the water was almost at her waist and still coming, said Spence.

The family has been left traumatised by the experience. Panic sets in with each heavy shower of rain.

“See mi likkle son there, him pack him bags and seh, ‘Mommy, mi ready in case water come in.’ It’s hard,” Spence lamented.

In addition to worrying about losing their lives and possessions, the family also has to contend with an inadequate drainage system that pools water in front of their home, providing a breeding ground for disease-bearing mosquitoes.

The flooding has also left a dent in Spence’s pocket as she has been unable to earn rent from another house she owns nearby.

“Because a di water mi cyaah get it fi rent. I have been living here for 30 years so mi used to it. But for someone to rent it, they’re not going to stay because it’s not their house. For me, it stressful bad, because I am now losing revenue,” she said.

Other Hatfield residents have also felt the financial pinch over the years as flood waters claim livestock, the main source of income for many. Shopkeepers like Govan “Miss G” Miller have also lost stock as floodwaters rise to knee level.

Hatfield is just one of the communities in Westmoreland that has battled flooding over the years. Other areas, according to Savanna-la-mar Mayor Bertel Moore, are Little London and sections of downtown. He said McNeil Land, which typically floods, would be spared this year as the drains were recently cleaned.

Okiefe Brown, an assistant parish manager at the National Works Agency’s (NWA) western region, told the Observer he was unaware of any new plans to minimise the effects of flooding in the parish through additional drain cleaning. He explained that members of parliament for each constituency are in charge of deciding which drains are to be cleaned. Once those decisions are taken, the NWA acts, Brown added.

For now, the municipality does have a plan for areas that experience flooding. The mayor noted that there are 90 disaster emergency shelters across the parish, 65 of which have been certified for use.

“Although the other 25 are not yet certified, because of minor things that have to be done, they can still be used,” he said.

Disaster preparedness coordinator for Westmoreland Hilma Tate explained that these shelters would typically accommodate more than 7,000 people, but the need for social distancing to meet COVID-19 safety protocols has reduced this number to approximately 4,000.

In addition to providing a safe space for residents, the mayor said the municipal corporation has been working closely with supermarkets across the parish to provide food for people in the shelters. He added that supplies would also be available for residents who are still able to remain at home and help will be provided for those who have lost possessions to flooding.

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