BY INGRID BROWN Associate editor — special assignment firstname.lastname@example.org
JUST over two weeks after Hurricane Sandy devastated Eastern Jamaica, 19 persons, including nine children ages one to 12, are still living in the Manchioneal Community Centre in Portland in less than desirable conditions.
There is no electricity at the centre, forcing the temporary residents to stumble around in the dark at nights. In fact, they have to feel their way to get to the single bathroom as the lucky owners of the only two kerosene lamps on the premises keep them close to their cramped living space inside the shelter.
Although electricity was restored to the community days ago, the evacuees said they were told that instructions for power to be returned to the centre have to come from the councillor for the division.
Novelette Newton and her five children share one bed, with other evacuees being forced to sleep on the floor while the occupants prepare their daily meals on a single gas stove which was only made functional by the actions of a good Samaritan, Delroy Palmer, a resident of the community who donated a cylinder of gas.
"At night time me just put down some clothes yah so ah ground, and some ah we sleep pon it," Newton told the Jamaica Observer, pointing to a section of the small room which she shares with two other families.
Just before dusk last Thursday when the Sunday Observer visited the shelter, some residents were rushing to prepare a meal of rice and corned beef before it became too dark, while others sat outside fending off jumbo-sized mosquitos which swarmed the area almost with a vengeance.
The children later sat in the extremely dim light of the lamps eating their meal, while someone waited impatiently outside the bathroom for another person to get out.
When a shelter manager was asked whether lamps or flashlights were provided for the evacuees, she explained that there were lanterns, however they could not be lit as the councillor was responsible for providing the kerosene oil and this had not been done.
A 12-year-old high school student wandered aimlessly outside. With no light to study, there was nothing else to do.
"How are you?" the Sunday Observer asked the first former.
"Not good," she responded with downcast eyes.
When pressed as to the reason for her response, the young girl said, "I am not good because I am living in a shelter."
Asked what she hates most about her new accommodations, the soft-spoken child said, "I just can't deal with the arguing among the people".
Her mother, who the Sunday Observer chose not to identify, said her daughter's schoolwork is starting to be affected as she cannot study once night falls.
"She is also bothered about her schoolmates finding out that she is living in a shelter, and so everyday she wants us to leave, but we don't have anywhere to go," the mother said. The family had lost everything in Hurricane Sandy's onslaught.
Cheryl Hall said she is desperate to leave the shelter with her four and nine-year-old children, but also has nowhere to go.
She explained that she was a tenant at a house which was completely destroyed and the owners are both unable and unwilling to repair it.
"This is mi first time at a shelter and mi don't like it because it hard to go through. It rough," she said, shaking her head in despair.
She said it has been particularly challenging to live in such cramped quarters with strangers who have different personalities and behaviours.
"At least at you home you have your own bathroom, but here you have no privacy and some people clean and other people nasty," she lamented.
She also complained about the lack of proper hygiene which she blamed for the sores which have appeared on her younger son's feet. The little boy has been running a fever since the sores appeared, but there was not much she could do but let him sleep.
"Mi just sitting here and don't know what to do because nobody is coming to tell us what is to happen to us," she said.
Director General of the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM) Ronald Jackson, said there should not have been a lack of lighting or insufficient cots as this should have been requested by the local emergency response workers on the ground.
"The Manchioneal welfare assistants are not doing their job if this is the case," Jackson said.
Once informed of the situation by the Sunday Observer, Jackson gave instructions for enough cots, blankets, lanterns and food to be immediately dispatched to the centre.
The evacuees, the majority of whom were renting the homes which they were forced to flee during the storm, said they are getting worried that there will be no end in sight to their plight.
Hall said she is in desperate need of building material so she can replace the roof on her dwelling.
The others living in the shelter claimed that, although no official word has been communicated to them, they have been hearing talks that they will soon have to vacate the centre since the facility is needed by the community for the holding of meetings.
Yesterday, ODPEM's Jackson informed the Sunday Observer that the authorities will be meeting soon to discuss the closure of the shelter.
Last week, a group of young men from the community were seen enjoying a game of football on the field at the community centre, seemingly oblivious to the plight of the occupants inside.
Another occupant, Karen White-Cassie, who is at the shelter along with her child and spouse, said she is desperate for some help to be able to leave.
She showed the Sunday Observer the unfinished rented house where she was living a stone's throw away from the centre. However, when the entire roof came off, White-Cassie, her husband and child had to seek refuge at the shelter.
With no space to put her furniture and other items, White-Cassie said she had to leave them inside the roofless house where they still get wet every time it rains. She was only able to take along her bed, which all three of them have to share.
"There is nothing good about here, except that we have a roof over our heads," she said.
Like her fellow shelter occupants, White-Cassie lamented the fact that nobody has been to the centre to inform them of what will be their likely fate.
"All we can hear is that the people dem soon need dem centre and is like nobody don't care about us," she said.
White-Cassie said she has been trying to get a piece of government land in Way Bridge for sometime now and had even joined a providence society, which was to have helped persons to acquire property.
"All me need is just some help with building material so me can go build somewhere to live in because me can't live like this anymore," she said.
The ODPEM boss said he is not sure what will be done to help persons who did not own their own home as this aspect is being dealt with by the Ministry of Housing.
He noted, however, that the people in the shelter will be one of the targeted priorities.