Carey Mercurio’s Upper Carolina hillside slid 40 feet below her property down to Centerline Road.
While residents across St. John continued to recover last week from the devastating rains which inundated the island during Tropical Storm Otto early this month, Upper Carolina residents’ woes impacted everyone who drove along Centerline Road.
The subdivision experienced several landslides along its private roads, but also one major landslide which threatened to close Centerline Road aand even more are possible.
Upper Carolina resident and vice president of the neighborhood’s land owners’ association, Carey Mercurio, noticed a crack in her driveway on Wednesday morning, October 6, the morning after severe rainfall from TS Otto socked the island.
Mercurio watched over the next several days as the crack grew bigger and finally her landscaped hillside started to fall away. Having lived in her concrete home since the early 2000’s, Mercurio had not previously experienced any landslides on that portion of her property, she explained.
“At first it was down three inches, then three feet and then 30 feet,” she said about the crack on her hillside.
By Monday morning, October 11, Mercurio’s hillside, including her septic system, was 40 below her property covering a portion of Centerline Road.
Department of Public Works crews dug the area out so at least one lane was passable for traffic. Crew continued to work throughout the week as the dirt continued to fall.
Just down the road from there, across from the entrance to the Upper Carolina subdivision, runoff from the neighborhood dislodged a roughly 30 foot section of road underneath Centerline Road near Pam Gaffin’s home.
Cones and rocks outline the area where the hillside below the asphalt was washed away. (See related story on page 4).
Senator at Large Craig Barshinger was the first government official to assess the damage to Upper Carolina, followed by DPW and federal officials, explained the neighborhood land owners’ association president Gerry Hills.
“Senator at Large Barshinger came up on Saturday night, October 9, and he immediately took a number of photos and sent them to the governor,” said Hills. “Then Department of Public Works Commissioner Darryl Smalls came out on Monday after Carey’s hill caved in. He did an assessment as well.”
Later in the week, George Lewis from V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency, John Oliver from the Small Business Association’s Disaster Analysis, DPW St. John Deputy Director Ira Wade and a Federal Emergency Management Agency representative from Puerto Rico also took a look at the area, according to Hills.
“They were touring the island and looking at everything and they came up here,” Hills said.
Of particular concern for officials was the land next door to Mercurio’s where a 30-foot crack emerged, Hills added.
“We have 30-foot long cracks in various sections running parallel to the road,” he said. “Next door to Carey’s landslide is another 30-foot crack that looks to be down about six inches from where it was. The feds looked at that and were concerned about it.”
Hills was hoping to obtain signage from DPW cautioning drivers to go slowly and avoid several portions of the Upper Carolina subdivision roads where the roadbeds were undermined. In the meantime, Hills and Mercurio erected hand-painted signs themselves.
“The first step is to notify everyone and put warning signs up,” said Hills. “I’m still hoping that DPW will get me some official territorial warning sings. Right now I have some buckets that I spray-painted myself and a sign I made from plywood and spray paint.”
Hills is also trying to contact all Upper Carolina land owners to notify them of the damages. Beyond that, the Upper Carolina Land Owners’ Association president was at a loss.
“We don’t have any idea how to fix what we’ve got either long-term or short-term,” he said. “And we have no way to pay for it.”
While drainage in the subdivision is obviously a problem, there is nothing to be done during massive flood events like the one wrought by TS Otto, according to Hills.
“It was 18 inches of rain,” he said. “Drive along Centerline Road and you’ll see probably 40 landslides along the road. It’s the geography of the island.”
As residents cope with the existing unstable roadway in Upper Carolina, at least one thing seemed certain —there are surely more problems ahead.
“We are not out of the woods by any means,” said Hills. “We have land that is very unstable at this point.”
Hills is trying to contact all Upper Carolina land owners. Anyone who has not heard from Hills who owns land in Upper Carolina should email firstname.lastname@example.org.