Officials at the National Housing Corporation are being urged to demolish a crumbling unit at Martin’s Road, the Pine, St Michael, which residents have identified as another tragedy waiting to happen.
The housing unit, which was destroyed by fire in November 2019, stands at the edge of a busy walkway that connects one side of the community with another, and above a small shack occupied by Evelyn Sealy, a woman in her 50s who had been living in the unit since 1987.
Sealy told Barbados TODAY that numerous trips to the NHC’s Country Road, St Michael office to inquire about alternative housing and to alert them about the dangerous situation, had all come to naught.
She said that although two women from the NHC visited the property on the day of the blaze, it appears there was no record of the event in the state-owned entity’s files.
“From 2019 until now, we are still waiting for directions from housing,” said Sealy.
“After a few trips to the NHC, I realised that not even the General Manager seemed to know about the house burning down. So I made it my problem to go in there on more than one occasion and try to get to him. When I got through to him, he told me he had no record of #11 being burnt, and he was going to send somebody to investigate,” she recalled.
The two-storey structure is cracking in several places, and only a few sheets of galvanise and a branch from a tree in the backyard are believed to be delaying the inevitable collapse.
Chunks of bricks fall to the ground from time to time, landing dangerously close to Sealy’s makeshift house and the walkway, which is frequented by school children.
“I am more than concerned because even though I might not have anywhere to live, children pass here every day. This is a path that has been used for ages since I came here in 87’,” said Sealy.
“Sometimes I am in there lying down, and I hear people saying, ‘look at that building. That wall will fall down’. I was in there lying down one morning, and just as I was getting up, I heard ‘brugadown, brugadown’. It was the wall coming down. It’s crumbling, and with a little push of wind, that will all come down, and if it does come down, it will lick down this [temporary dwelling],” she added.
The crumbling housing unit is a stone’s throw away from the spot where a 17-year-old boy fell to his death in a 100ft well in 2019.
Passers-by gave their two cents on the situation but declined to go on the record.
“That is a catastrophe waiting to happen,” one man remarked.
Sealy, a trained steel bender, first leased the unit in 1987 after losing another house in a fire.
Then, in an unfortunate case of deja vu, the house where she raised her four children and lived in up until 2019 also went up in flames, apparently due to electrical problems.
“It wasn’t easy to take either. I fell flat on my back on the morning that I came and found this house burnt.
After spending some time with another friend, it became evident that she was taking up their space. Then, with assistance from her daughter, Sealy acquired enough materials to construct four walls around her.
At night, she rests her head on a thin piece of sponge with buckets around her to catch water that leaks from the roof when it rains.
“The material is not first-class material, but it is good enough to hold up under the weather,” said Sealy.
She cooks at a friend’s house and collects drinking water from a neighbour’s outside pipe.
Sealy endured last year’s ‘freak’ storm, Hurricane Elsa, and the Ash from the La Soufriere eruptions in the house. But after repeated trips to the NHC, the Urban Development Commission and the Welfare Department, her patience is running thin.
“I want to find out from National Housing, how is it that we have been given these houses, and when a catastrophe like this happens, you are not accommodated in any way?” asked Sealy.
“There were about four fires in the Pine, either before or after mine, and these people were accommodated. Why is it that they cannot find lodging for Evelyn Sealy? I don’t owe them anything and as far as I understand from the firemen, it seems as though the house caught fire from the electricity,” she added.
Another resident concurred: “I would like a house for her. She is a poor, hungry woman like me. At night it burns my heart, and I cry.
“I pray for her that nothing will happen and that [the structure] don’t come down on her when I hear it making noise at night. I want a house for her. There is a spot down the road that her house can be placed on at the bottom of St Ann’s if anybody cared. Nobody cares,” the resident added.
Efforts to reach NHC General Manager Ian Cupid Gill on Friday evening were unsuccessful.