A mere two weeks after St Vincent and the Grenadines would have reflected in memoriam on the Christmas 2013 tragedy in which 12 people perished in torrential rains, they are again rocked by a most distressing catastrophe.
Our hearts extend across the blue waters of the Caribbean Sea as we feel the agony and loss of our Vincentian brothers and sisters as they grapple with this new calamity. In the early hours of the business day, yesterday Monday, the quiet north-eastern community of Rock Gutter was jolted like never before when a minibus transporting children and adults plunged into the sea.
So far, five people have been confirmed dead and 14 others hospitalized. The search continues for two others, sorely and regrettably, still missing.
A sorrowful Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves lamented: “This is a tragedy of national proportion. We all grieve and ask God for guidance and strength as we lean on one another . . . . We have to hope . . . and we have to put the pieces back together and see what we can do to ensure that this . . . tragedy does not happen again.”
It is well beyond our scope of understanding why such senseless tragedies should be permitted to so disrupt life, and we thus stay clear of offering any answers –– even as scores of friends, family and neighbours question why. Words never quite suffice when a tragedy of this magnitude occurs; and, worse yet, when children fall victims in such a calamity, the pain, anguish and misery are intensified.
We are left to offer only our earnest prayers, our deepest sympathies and our best wishes for some comfort to those who mourn, and
our helping hand to our sister Caribbean nation –– for indeed we are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers.
In the words of St Lucia’s Prime Minister Dr Kenny Anthony, whose own nation weathered a similar tragedy in 2011 –– when 16 people perished after a minibus carrying mourners from a funeral plunged 50 feet down a cliff –– “a loss of this nature touches all of us throughout
the region, and draws us closer together as a people”.
On the sidelines, there are already rumblings and questions about whether the Rock Gutter minibus was overloaded and, if so, why those responsible would exercise such poor judgement. Needless
to say the debate will continue in the days ahead, but now may hardly be the time to put on the table a problem that seems to pervade every Caribbean country, when deep loss of loved ones is at the centre of lives.
There are, however, some concerns –– even as we grieve –– that deserve a prompt and strong rebuke. It boggles the mind why some of us, unnecessarily anxious to get the word out, would make it their business to abuse technology by their stark postings, causing greater grief to the relatives of victims by the insensitive splashing of pictures of lifeless and bloodied bodies on the social networks –– especially those of children.
How cold and uncaring!
A better use of technology would have been to reach out to the grieving and shocked with messages of comfort and hope of recovery.
January 12 will long be remembered as a catastrophic day for Vincentians; but no other more than the Haitians dread that date.
It was exactly five years ago on the day that Haiti was forever changed when a magnitude 7.0 earthquake struck just before 5 p.m.
Across the French-speaking country mass graves, houses yet to be rebuilt and piles of rubble remain visible reminders of the close to 300,000 who perished and the millions who were displaced. Five years on, the International Organization For Migration reports that Haiti is still a long way off from recovery, with the number of Haitians living in tents or underneath tarpaulins estimated at 79,397. For all its perceived will, the Haitian government yet lacks sufficient means to address the problem.
Memorable as St Vincent’s latest tragedy unfortunately will be, the challenge will hardly be as mammoth as that of other neighbour Haiti.
As we all pain over the Rock Gutter calamity, let us be drawn closer and let us indeed live the Christ-like life of being truly our brothers’ keepers!