Travelers in Distress: Bridge Connecting Rivercess with South-East Liberia Cuts Off

Rivercess County - The collapse of the main bridge linking Rivercess and Sinoe Counties in the Southeast of Liberia is gravely impeding the livelihood and movements of Liberians in the area.

Rivercess County – The collapse of the main bridge linking Rivercess and Sinoe Counties in the Southeast of Liberia is gravely impeding the livelihood and movements of Liberians in the area.

Residents of Yarnee District, Rivercess County and travelers are increasing calls for Government to quickly intervene by repairing the bridge.

Travelers and locals have to cross their luggage and merchandise in canoe, on ferry or riskily use the damaged bridge with many of them saying the situation is making life unbearable.

The bridge over the Cestos River was constructed by the European Union (EU) in 1989 connecting River Cess and Grand Bassa Counties with the rest of the Southeastern Region in Liberia. But the bridge collapsed on April 26 after a 22-tire truck loaded with crushed rocks entered with speed hitting the bridge guide, according to eyewitnesses.

Transport Fares Double

Commercial drivers taking risk on the bridge have resulted to charging high fares to compensate for the risk.

“We charge the passengers two-ways transportation fares because we have to sell them to the cars across the bridge,” explains John Tomah, a regular driver on the road. He added that every driver is responsible to pay the fares of the passengers from his car to the driver in whose car passengers are transferred.

Two temporary parking lots have been setup on either side of the bridge to help solve problem faced by travelers although the hike in fares is causing stir amongst travelers and is consequently leading to the increment in the prices of basic commodities on local market.

More than 20 cars were seen on either side of the collapsed bridge with passengers expressing frustration over long delays in getting a vehicle from either side of the bridge. One female passenger was miserably angry as she explained how she spent two nights awaiting a ride to Greenville, Sinoe County. “We can’t go in the Town because we have to protect our loads” said Janjay Jimmy, adding that they are afraid that thieves may rob them if they do.

Some locals are taking advantage of the situation and are exploiting others by exorbitantly charging travelers. A man identify as Emmanuel told reporters he carries a piece of 2/10 timber on his head across the bridge for 25LD though he was paid far less before the bridge damaged.  “We are more than 200 (men) off-loading and loading trucks carrying timbers; we carry the timbers to the other side of the bridge.”

Like Emmanuel, Mohammed Musarry, a business man who has moved his business from the town to the bridge says he now makes more money. “I sell tea and bread here, and the people who are waiting for cars (are) buying every hour so I have to make my tea and bread expensive because I’m buying the ingredients expensive too.”

Bridge Condition Hampers Health Delivery

The Cestos River route is strategic for transporting goods and services as well as medical supplies from Monrovia through Buchanan and to several rural parts of Rivercess and Sinoe Counties. Locals are weary that the bridge condition will put tension on the already challenging health care services in the county.

A medical practitioner in the area say drugs for the clinic are off loaded at the bridge and carried on people heads to the health facilities, something he said is risky.

“The condition of the bridge is obstructing the smooth operation of the ITI clinic here”, explains Borris Paul Grupee, the District Surveillance Officer (DSO) of the River Cess County Health Team.

Mr. Grupee says since the collapse of the bridge health workers have been finding it hard to do their work.

“It is not easy for us here, we are like risking the lives of the very people we came to save, can you imagine, we have to put critical patience on a locally made ferry or canoe to cross to the other side of the river to onboard an ambulance for referral to the St. Francis Hospital in Cestos City.”

He was making emphasis to a pregnant woman who he says was bleeding and her condition could not be handled at the facility. “We have to put her on a motor bike with the fluid in my hands to the bridge and later in the canoe to cross the river for the Ambulance,” he explains.
Straining Local Economy
One marketer said since the collapse of the bridge, business has been slow.

“Since the bridge spoiled our businesses have been declining”, complained Kanneth Johnson, a businessman in the ITI area.  Kanneth says his profit has sharply decreased by 75% in less than two months.

“Before the bridge spoiled, I used to get LRD$ 40 on each gallon of gasoline at the time I was paying ($900LD) as transportation fares for each container, but now I only get 17 LD from each gallon and I am now paying (1,600LD) one thousand Hundred Liberian Dollars for each container as transportation fares”.

At the same time, a 25 kg bag of rice has increased to LRD$ 1,900 when it was sold less than LRD$1,500.
A month ago in the area, another local business woman declared that the condition of the bridge is putting every single business person out of business.

Ma Mary who sells food in a local cook shop says customers are hard to come by and complained that local food sellers are struggling to keep up their business. “I sell food for two days than I have to wait for my friends to sell for their two-two days before I can sell again,” she said. “Before the bridge could spoil, we all used to sell our foods at the same time, but we can’t do it again because of the condition of the bridge”.

Pupils Out of School

At the same time several school-going kids are also unable to continue school since they have to go across the bridge to attend the area public school. Parents in the area say they are keeping their kids at home because it is dangerous to cross the bridge since the river is flooded and they are afraid that their kids may drown.

A resident in the area, Teta says her two kids are not attending but she’s also worry about feeding her kids as the rainy season intensified. “I am afraid that we are in the rainy season, and when the river gets full we may die from hunger,” she said.

The Rivercess County administration has not officially commented on the condition of bridge or reveal efforts to rehabilitate it. But the County’s Inspector, A. Trokon Browne says the bridge situation is a national concern that cannot be handed by the county authority alone. Inspector Browne noted that the Government is doing all it can to address the situation.

In 2015, there were repeated calls by engineers emphasizing that heavy log trucks should be barred from plying the bridge until major reconstruction works are done.  

Alpha Daffae Senkpeni, FPA STAF WRITER

Editor’s Note: This story was written in collaboration with Local Voices Liberia media network. Local Voices is a network of Liberian journalists from across the 15 counties working to lift the stories that are underreported by using its platform