This Saturday we drove to the country, St. Thomas to be specific, to visit family. It was raining, as the entire island was experiencing a “trough” that was expected to bring a lot of precipitation throughout the weekend. We had debated if we should go or not, as the roads can get flooded and sometimes completely blocked. We decided to take the risk, as we had heard it wasn’t too bad out in St. Thomas.
The drive out was fine, if a little rainy and cool. The drive home, however, was a nightmare. The roads, most of which have no drainage system, had become milky brown rivers. The usual potholes were not detectable and there were rocks and debris in the road where there had been mini-landslides. This was manageable, as was a stretch of road that is usually only passable in rain by driving on the side.
However, when we got to a small community just outside of Kingston called Bull Bay, we got stuck. A sharp curve had become a torrential river, complete with a four-foot tree stump that had washed into the road. We were third in a long line of cars that just stopped and pondered for awhile. My husband said we would just have to wait. This was with my toddler daughter in the car, who had just thrown up and had a fever, as well as our neighbour’s two children, one of whom had also thrown up. Envisioning a night in the car in this scenario, I started to panic. I suggested going to a hotel, but my husband pointed out that there were none nearby.
Then, all of a sudden, a flurry of activity started, as a group of men started walking towards the water and began directing the cars through a back lane to the left of the road. This would be a back lane for the ghetto of Bull Bay, i.e., not safe. We had no choice, however, and started driving through the narrow lane, which was framed by zinc fences. We were proceeding just fine until the line stopped moving. It seems there was confusion up ahead as people from the other direction were also trying to get through. At this point, we were stuck in about a foot of water and the car was struggling.
After some shouting and flailing of arms, we were finally directed through and were back onto the main road. I have never been so relieved to see the pothole-filled main road before in my life. My mind had begun to venture to the volatility of the area and what would happen as tempers flared.
We finally made it home and everyone is healthy today. But this incident has highlighted all the concerns and questions I have when driving these roads:
- When will the roads be fixed? Apparently it has been decades, with the potholes just burrowing deeper.
- What are the economic losses as people who could normally commute in an hour take up to two hours to navigate the damaged roads?
- What are the economic losses as cars endure more wear and tear than is reasonable?
- What about safety? What are people to do when the roads are impassable? What about flooding and the danger to residents?
- Why is there no drainage system?
- What about the rocks and boulders and trees that fall from overhead mountains and cliffs? Are those monitored?
I wondered all these things as we drove. I also wondered if the area MP (James Robertson I believe) had ever driven these roads during a flood. I suspect not, as if he had, he might take swifter action to remedy these immediate threats, both to the nation’s economy and to individual safety.