- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 1, 2002

PORUS, Jamaica Some residents say this rural community has been blessed by God. Others see something satanic at work.

Many say there's no easy explanation for why spring water is mysteriously bubbling up from the ground in Porus, about 40 miles west of Kingston, the capital.

When it first appeared this past summer, the water washed out roads, flooded some homes, and created idyllic ponds, streams, and waterfalls.

According to groundwater experts, unusually heavy rains in May and June saturated underground reservoirs, or aquifers. There was no place for it to go but up.

Residents have their own explanations.

"It's really a miracle, you know," said Rupert Gordon, 34, a truck driver. He remembers that the water appeared mysteriously, even though there was not a cloud in the sky. Outside his front door, it turned a road into a fast-moving stream.

"I go to church and read the Bible, and it says in the later days we will have signs and wonders," he said.

Runoff from the stream lapped at his front door, drowned 12 chickens and spawned waves of pesky mosquitoes. But Mr. Gordon is philosophical.

"Well, it's a sign for us to look up and look for the Savior who is above," Mr. Gordon said as his wife and three young children sat on the front porch, marveling at the gurgling stream.

Like many residents, Mr. Gordon also held out a more sinister possibility: Bauxite mining in the area played some insidious role in the sudden appearance of the stream.

Maurice Meeks, 60, a farmer, has no doubt about that.

"The bauxite mining is definitely responsible," said Mr. Meeks, staring intently at a new pond just off the main highway. It appeared in a cow pasture, the site of a former open-pit mine.

Mr. Meeks believes that the mining activity stripped away too much topsoil, allowing groundwater to bubble to the surface.

But Basil Fernandez, managing director of the Water Resources Authority, said mined-out depressions simply flood and form ponds because of rising groundwater tables.

Rather than aggravating the flooding, he said, the depressions serve as "retaining ponds," reducing the amount of flooding.

Geology aside, there's no denying that the spring water has created a lovelier landscape in some areas. That was not lost on Mr. Meeks and a dozen other tourists who parked their cars to view a huge boomerang-shaped pond just off the main highway. It's wedged between what's left of the cow pasture and a cliff and is fed by a stream of water rolling over the grass.

On the highway, Anton Irving, 25, cooked chicken for the visitors. He's one of many enterprising vendors who set up stands near the natural wonders.

A few miles away, two vast and lovely ponds formed on farmland on both sides of the highway.

"Something is wrong," muttered Owen Roach, 41, of Kingston.

But Mr. Fernandez of the water authority said there's a scientific explanation for all this.

"The Porus area is just the lower section of a large trough," he said, explaining that rainfall works its way down to Porus and into a local river system.

And there was lots of rain last May and June, he noted, with a year's worth of rain falling in 10 days in some places. Heavy rainfall since has increased the flooding and replenished groundwater tables, he said.

At its worst, the flooding engulfed the homes of about 20 families, but "they refused to leave their homes," said Hilary Bromfield, a local coordinator for the government's disaster-relief agency. They were provided such things as rubber boots and mattresses.

Still, many residents have remained upbeat, thinking of ways to cash in on the ponds and waterfalls by developing tourist attractions around them.

But Mr. Fernandez is throwing cold water on such schemes, saying the groundwater tables should return to pre-flood levels sometime in November.

"The ponds and waterfalls will disappear," he predicts.

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