Rebuilding East End

Cayman’s East End is on the point of significant gains, its recovery efforts set to motor as it repairs the hurricane destruction that wrecked so much of the community.

‘East End will get back on its feet, you watch. It will motor now,’ said Mike Harnden, who is directing area recovery efforts for IAMCO, a London-based charity that has been in East End since September.

A tiny group of only three or four men, all former British military, IAMCO responded to Ivan’s wholesale destruction of East End, assessing and rebuilding properties with a $3 million grant from the community’s Olde Trust.

Rebuilding East End

This house, which was on stilts, was knocked off and sent backward during Hurricane Ivan. Here the house is being restored to the stilts and has been renovated and repainted. Erdiana owns the Knott Street home. Photo: Submitted

‘We had the manpower and they needed the help, so we offered. We surveyed every property in East End. We looked at roofs and all the other damage, and we built a picture in order to calculate a budget,’ Mr. Harnden said.

The group previously supplied disaster aid — generators, food and rescue packs — to Dominica and Grenada, gaining experience providing direct relief to individuals and small communities.

The survey yielded a prioritised list of 20 properties, based on the extent of the damage and the speed with which it could be addressed.

The original concept was that, as work progressed, IAMCO could order the materials to repair a second set of 20 houses.

By Christmas, however, Mr. Harden said, a shortage of materials had rendered the plan impossible, so the group developed a new list, this time with 52 properties that could be repaired quickly with the materials at hand..

‘Eleven properties needed total repairs because they had simply disappeared,’ Mr. Harden said.

Properties had to satisfy three basic conditions: The occupants owned them, they were not commercial and they were not insured.

As IAMCO started work, they found they had to alter their approach again.

‘We found people were doing repairs themselves, and were quite ingenious. If there were $40,000 worth of repairs, they had started out themselves,’ Mr. Harnden said.

The group quickly realised this meant it could direct that $40,000 to other recipients.

At the same time, IAMCO realised that the Cayman Islands Development Bank and the National Recovery Fund were contributing to efforts on some of the same properties.

Taking in hand a certain frustration, Mr. Harnden said the scope of the work changed again.

‘We said, ‘let’s see if by June 1 we can iron this out, stop the duplication. It’s all in a small, local place.’ ‘

By now, suppliers had overcome bottlenecks impeding the arrival of construction materials, home appliances, white goods and other items to reconstitute a functional community.

IAMCO met CIDB and NRF, examined their requirements and created a way all three groups could rebuild East End without tripping over each other or wasting money.

Acutely sensitive to problems of corruption, duplication and waste that have dogged relief efforts elsewhere, Mr. Harnden eagerly displays a series of multicoloured wall charts and carefully kept ledgers documenting every property, its owner and address; every phase of work and its cost by every contractor; every item withdrawn from IAMCO stores and its destination; and every contribution made by each relief agency.

The results, finalised only in the last week, are a comprehensive picture of East End’s problems and how they are being solved.

Property owners approach IAMCO, detailing their needs. The group cross-checks the application with CIDB and NRF and, more recently, with Cayman’s three Rotary Clubs, which also offer relief.

The group also consults with the local community representative, gathering information on families and their situations.

‘For example, we find that a lot of people are underinsured, [but] why shouldn’t they be helped?’ Mr. Harnden said. ‘We look at everything on a case-by-case basis.’

IAMCO awards a level of assistance, and seeks bids from its list of four approved contractors.

‘We want to make contractors accountable,’ Mr. Harden said, displaying records of the ‘Scope of Work Issued’ and various quotations.

‘Our building manager looks at the property, the contractors respond and commit to pricing and the work to be done.

‘We pay the contractor a certain per-hour fee, nothing up front, and when the job is completed, we pay them a 20 per cent management fee,’ he said.

Through cross-referencing, IAMCO can achieve significant savings on such things as weatherproofing, which, for example, NRF, will fund up to $15,000.

‘My job is to ensure value for money and to put people back into their homes,’ he said.

‘We cannot afford to deliver poor workmanship, which is why we talk to contractors and to Building Control.’

One reason Ivan so damaged East End was that many older structures didn’t comply with Cayman’s building code, a situation Mr. Harnden seeks to remedy.

‘We are building to code because there isn’t much point if the houses just blow down again. That’s why it’s important to ensure that what we are doing is right’

While building to code often requires more time and money, he said, ‘I’d rather do that than lose 25 per cent of what we did. It’s incredibly important.’

IAMCO also provides materials to people doing their own repairs.

‘We’ll drip feed dry wall, for example, to people to fix their own rooms. We check it to make sure the materials are not being diverted, and when they need it, we’ll give them more,’ Mr. Harden said.

Electrical and plumbing work is a frequent problem because Cayman’s few contractors are in constant demand, he said, and their work must be carefully timed.

‘Building is a process and you have to fill in the patterns like a jigsaw,’ he said.

Because they are so tightly scheduled, he said, electricians and plumbers are constantly on the move.

‘We could offer them bulk contracts, 10 houses at a time, maximising their time management and building skills instead of their driving skills,’ Mr. Harnden said.

Still, until the island’s electricity and plumbing have sufficiently recovered, IAMCO will continue to struggle with contractors’ schedules.

Mr. Harnden is reluctant to discuss IAMCO funding details, and declines to predict how far the Olde Trust’s $3 million grant will go.

‘It’s impossible to say. We operate on a needs basis and I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow. A property is assessed, for example, and then the weather comes along and suddenly a damaged roof is now gone.’

He said that in just two days he was off-island, IAMCO added 15 properties to its list.

Still, he said, by June 1 IAMCO hoped to complete ‘a certain footprint and standard style of house’ in the community.

‘If we did 75 per cent weatherproofing of these properties, we’d be doing well,’ he said, although quietly suggesting it might take till the end of July to finish.

‘Last week, we gave away 35 appliances because people were sitting at home without cookers,’ he said.

‘We have about 100 properties in the pipeline and are growing on a daily basis. We have 62 applications and 50 contracts that are about to be awarded.

‘The message I want to get out,’ Mr. Harnden said, ‘is that it’s not all doom and gloom. There’s a lot going on, a lot of progress is being made. We are doing this in a professional and transparent way.

‘We did the school, repainted the walls and fences, and rebuilt the pavement. We’ve done a lot of general cleaning up. One of our guys even raised $1,250 by running in the marathon recently.’

Small improvements — a fresh coat of paint and a repaired garden wall — can make a major difference in people’s attitudes, he said,

The 17 projects IAMCO is doing this week represent only a fraction of the major difference the group is making.

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