MONTEGO BAY — The government yesterday allocated $20 million to undertake emergency work in Montego Bay, a day after torrential rain caused flooding in sections of the resort city leaving a trail of heavy mud and destruction.
The announcement was made by local government and community development minister Desmond McKenzie after a tour of some of the affected areas by a high-level team led by prime minister Andrew Holness, and including representatives of the National Works Agency, St James members of parliament, and Montego Bay mayor Homer Davis.
Speaking at a press conference at the St James Municipal Corporation after the tour, McKenzie told reporters that $10 million is being disbursed from the Equalisation Fund, while the other portion is being provided by the Emergency Fund.
Describing the flooding and its impact on Montego Bay as “crisis level”, McKenzie stressed that his ministry will work closely with the St James Municipal Corporation to return the city to normalcy.
He added that, apart from the emergency work now under way in Montego Bay, the Ministry of Labour and Social Security and the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management will soon commence its assessment of the damage to individuals and businesses.
Prime minister Holness also pledged his support for the city’s recovery efforts and pointed out that the government will have to look at ways to mitigate against flooding, as he urged citizens to become more aware of climate change.
He added that the supplementary budget will have to be adjusted to allow for more funds to be disbursed to the city’s recovery efforts.
Several sections of the second city were severely impacted by the flash flooding, which left several roadways blocked for hours, bringing traffic to a snarl, and disrupting economic activity.
The flooding also resulted in the closure of schools in and around the city, a number of businesses, including the St James Street Branch of National Commercial Bank, restaurants and a gas station.
McKenzie said the “excessively heavy rains” — estimated to be about 3.5 inches — which pelted the city for about four hours, did extensive damage to private and public property.
“And so, as of next week Tuesday, I will be coming into Montego Bay for two days to see how best to deal with the crisis,” the minister told journalists.
Davis said the heavy downpour caused every tributary and the gullies in the
downtown area of the city to overflow their banks.
“I have never seen anything like that,” Davis said, stressing that “my effort is to return Montego Bay to normal by Sunday.”
Meanwhile, a number of business operators in the city spent most of yesterday counting their losses and cleaning the muck and grime from their establishments.
A number of wreckers were also observed removing disabled motor vehicles from several of the city’s streets.
Emergency teams were also out in their numbers washing away debris and dirt from sections of downtown Montego Bay, particularly the area around the historic Sam Sharpe, which was cordoned off for the most part of the day.
Lydia Lawrence, co-owner of T-Dees Hardware located at Centre Point Mall in the downtown area of the city, told the Jamaica Observer that she lost millions of dollars.
Lawrence said she and her employees had to flee the store due to the rising flood waters.
“It was chaos. The water came over the north gully and started to rise up in the store to about six feet high, so we had to flee,” she said.
She added that several people were seen swimming to safety, while a number of vehicles were washed away by the strong current.
Vivian Burnett, manager of the nearby Seafoods Warehouse store, said the damage to that business place was extensive.
“The damage is extreme, everything is lost
. . . the complete stock . . . cold rooms, furniture, refrigerators, computers . . . everything,” said an obviously disappointed Burnett.
“I have been here for five years and I have never seen anything like this. I have never seen water rising that high here.”
President of the Montego Bay Chamber of Commerce and Industry, T’Shura Gibbs, described the impact of the flooding as “severe”.
“I have never seen anything like this in the city of Montego Bay. It is devastating. A lot of destruction for a number of business operators in downtown Montego Bay, and I am just hoping that we will get the city back to normal in the shortest possible time,” she told the Observer.
She however commended the mayor of the city for what she said is the tremendous work being done to get the city back to normal.