Jamaica Magazine

Aftermath of Tropical Storm Nicole by American Retiree in Jamaica

Written by John Casey

The story actually starts back in 2004 when Hurricane Ivan paid a visit to Jamaica.  Sign main road is a lazy winding road over gently rolling hills that leads past, as opposed to through, several small communities on its way from Montego Bay, to, you guessed it, the town of Sign.  This road parallels the Barnett River which slowly makes its way to the Caribbean Ocean.  Normally this river is quiet and peaceful but during a hurricane or heavy rains it can be a raging torrent of brown angry water that lifts ten feet or more above its bed.  That is exactly what happened during Ivan.  At one point there is a slight bend in the river’s course that brings it close to this particular roadway.  Our community voiced its concern over the eroding hillside to the relevant authorities but it fell on deaf ears.

Sometime during the last six years someone on the other side of the river decided to make a roadway leading down to the riverbank.  In doing so, all the dirt was dragged into the river thus changing its course more towards the threatened Sign main road.  Since that time, the torrential rains of rainy season has slowly eaten away the earth.  So much so that Jersey barriers and yellow tape had to be put in place to warn drivers of the imminent danger.  

It didn’t take much effort from Tropical Storm Nicole to reduce the road to one lane.  Still there was no action taken by the government on this busy secondary road.  Then it happened, the one thing everybody feared.  In the early morning hours a car plummeted over the bank and came to rest on its side with the windshield totally missing on the driver’s side.  The stories in the papers indicated the driver veered to avoid a pothole and didn’t see the missing section of the road which was now devoid of the yellow tape.  Miraculously, he walked away from his potential death with little more than scrapes and bruises.  

The government finally came into action after this accident.  They immediately closed the road detouring all the traffic through two quiet residential communities without so much as notifying either community.  The only roads through the communities were in extremely poor condition.  The connecting road was all but impassable.  The authorities tried to make the roads passable but failed miserably.  Traffic could only move at a snails’ pace with one lane accessible in some areas.  

The main road is heavily traveled by vehicles ranging from countless taxis to buses and trucks up to 18 wheels.  Needless to say, neither of the communities nor the general public was satisfied with this arrangement, but what to do about it.  Although attempts were made, there was little to no communication from the government.  The next plan of attack was to write letters to the editor of the three newspapers.  Bingo!  Within two days a meeting was set up in our community center.  There was a lot of excitement in and around the community anticipating a meeting with the Minister of Works, Mike Henry.  But it wasn’t to be.  Instead a young woman was sent from the local office with a short message.  None of our questions and concerns could be answered.  All she could do was take them back to her office.    

The meeting was packed to overflowing.  There were residents from both communities, our representative from the Parish Council, the head of at least one taxi association, and countless taxi drivers.  Cars, trucks, and buses were lined on either side of the road hundreds of feet in either direction from the meeting place.  There was a small peaceful road blockage which occurred during the middle of the meeting.  It is not clear whether the taxi drivers initiated it or traffic simply could not get through due to congestion.

The message the young lady was authorized to give us was that the government would fix the detour roads to help ease the congestion but was unable to give us a time frame for this to happen.  Then she dropped the bomb that got everyone upset.  Construction wouldn’t begin on the main road until at least February, 2011, some 4 months after the closure, because the work had to designed and put out for bid.  You can imagine that this did not set too well with the attendees.  There really wasn’t much control during the meeting up to this point but now bedlam broke out and pretty much ended any discourse between the parties.  Our normally coolheaded former community president, who chaired the meeting, made one loud and final statement for the woman to take back to her boss.  In a voice that could be clearly heard by everyone, he proclaimed, “If nothing is done within one week’s time, there will be war!”

During the next week two protests were staged.  Each time the protestors, mostly taxi men, moved the mound of dirt to open the main roadway.  The second time the protestors went so far as to line tires filled with dirt along the edge of the drop off and stringed yellow construction tape.  The local newspaper ran a headline on the front page saying, “Don’t blame us.”   NWA (National Works Agency) says motorists using the damaged roadway are “on your own.”  The NWA’s Communications and Customer Service manager said the road was properly closed taking all the appropriate steps. 

Now that nearly all of the traffic is using the closed road illegally, they have no idea that all the work the NWA promised is being done to make the detour a safer route.  It’s only a matter of time when construction begins that there will be no choice but to take the detour.  But alas, that is months away.

There is a real kicker to this story.  Within a day of that car taking the plunge over the bank, it was pulled out and left on the side street of the detour route.  I was surprised that it wasn’t taken to the junkyard or at least a repair shop.  It was left sticking out in the road very close to a residential home.  I don’t think that there is any country in the world where a seemingly abandoned car wouldn’t be stripped of every conceivable part, but not this one.  Day after day of passing the car there was no signs of any vandalism until about three weeks later.  One morning my wife and I drove past the car and noticed the right side of the car was up on blocks and the two right side tires were missing.  We looked at each other and smiled knowing that this was the beginning of the end of that car.  We wondered how much of the car would be left on our return later in the day.  Well, on our way back home my wife yelled, “Oh my God, there’s the wrecked car!”  Sure enough, the two tires were replaced and the guy was driving his car, missing windshield and all, towards Montego Bay!  We couldn’t believe it!  That was the last thing we expected to see on that road.  Later…. 

About the author

John Casey