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Dirt thieves weaken bank
Tonnes of dirt packed high to prevent the mighty Caroni River from overspilling its banks are being stolen and sold by unscrupulous people.
In at least three sites identified along the river bank, which runs from the foothills of the Northern Range to the Gulf of Paria, there were breaches identified by the Drainage Division, a department in Ministry of Works and Transport responsible for the maintenance and clearing of major rivers in the country.
The Caroni River is the largest river in T&T, spanning a distance of 40 kilometres, and supplies drinking water through the Caroni-Arena Dam. The river is designed in three tiers, each level wider than the other, and the top embankment is stacked with dirt and compacted to retain the water volume during extraordinary rainfall.
Breaches along the top bank can cause the river to divert its course and spill thousands of gallons into low lying areas along with debris and vermin.
Residents of St Helena Village, one of the areas devastated by flooding after the passage of Tropical Storm Bret on Monday, claimed people were stealing tonnes of dirt from the river’s embankment and selling it for as much at $450 a truck load of top soil.
Ministry officials have also identified significant breaches along the embankment of the Oropouche River and other major rivers in South Trinidad.
With the rivers swollen to capacity after over 12 hours of torrential rains coupled with high tide, the water forced its way through any weak areas of the embankment and flooded areas never before affected, long-time St Helena residents said. In some areas, the entire village was flooded with over four feet of water in less than 20 minutes. Hundreds of homes were affected and farmers lost acres of crops, livestock and machinery.
Residents were seen power-washing their homes and throwing out water-logged furniture as clean-up operations continued yesterday.
A Guardian Media team went to investigate a claim of a significant breach of the Caroni River bank at Kelly Trace, Piarco, yesterday.
Villagers on Wednesday said a farmer had dug a pond close to the river bank and suspected the river burst its bank at that location. Video footage seen by Guardian Media confirmed the villagers’ suspicion.
Farmer Surendra Dookran, the former president of the St Helena Village Farmers’ Group, said he dug a 30 foot deep by 100 foot long retention pond about 10 feet from the river to water his crops during dry season. He said he did not have permission from the Drainage Division, but noted other farmers were also doing the same.
“I am not the first and I am not the last,” he said, pointing to his brother-in-law Ramdeen “Kello” Karoo, who dug eight four-feet deep fish ponds at the back of his home. Karoo is the current president of the St Helena Village Farmers’ Group.
Dookran said there was no evidence to show the Caroni River had burst its bank near the pond.
“The flood is God’s work. This is not because of no pond,” he said.
He said he used the dirt from the pond to fill acres of land on the opposite side of the road.
Dookran said he used some of the dirt dug from the pond to also raise the bank of the river. He is also cultivating crops of peppers, coconuts and citrus on the river embankment, an act not approved by the Ministry of Works.
Dookran said if the Ministry of Works orders him to relocate the retention pond they will have to dig and fund a replacement, since he is not allowed to pump water directly from the river to water his crops.
Karoo said he made at least three reports to the Drainage Division about the retention pond being dug so close to the river, but nothing was done. He said the flood which overspilled his fish ponds left him counting his losses.
Over 60,000 tilapia fish and 3,000 cascadoux were lost, he claimed. An acre of hot peppers and an acre of moringa were also covered when the river broke its bank around 1 am on Monday.
Minister of Works Rohan Sinanan yesterday visited the site along with other officials to verify a report he had received earlier.
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