Massage therapist Gabriel Shakka Phillips risked his life today at Mullins Beach, St Peter to save the Royal Westmoreland Beach Club thousands of dollars in property, as a high surf advisory and small craft warning were issued for the island.
Large waves and dangerous rip currents, especially along the north and west coasts of the island, created unsafe conditions for small craft operators, forcing sea bathers to avoid the choppy waters.
The angry waves also attempted to swallow beach umbrellas and cushions placed there by the luxury resort, forcing Phillips to act.
“When I got here the waves from the sea were so high, I told myself there is no way I can work. When I looked and I saw what the sea looked like it was really mad. Some of the compartments under the restaurant were torn down,” he said.
“The majority of the umbrellas and cushions that the guest would use when they visit the beach were in the water. It was so hard for me. When I got into the water it was rough. I had to fight against the current to pull out the chairs. For like an hour I was struggling by myself, but I happen to get some of the cushions in a safe place.”
Phillips, who got to work around 6:30 this morning, described the scene as one of devastation, and the massage therapist of over 35 years is being lauded for devoting his time to saving beach property.
“I felt good about what I have done because if you look at it this is where I ply my trade. Because of Westmoreland giving me a lot of my work through their clients I have been really nice to them. You see, what happened today after coming to do a job for Mullins and finding out I couldn’t do my work for the day I had to do something about it because these guys look out for me. I would have been unfair and I would have felt uncomfortable to know that I am here and I didn’t do anything. I had to respond,” he said.
One worker, who requested anonymity, said the waves were bigger than normal.
“This is the first time for a while now we saw waves like this on the beach. Everything was in the sea, so basically we had to do all we could to save the chairs and umbrellas.”
Operations Manager at Royal Westmoreland Brigitte Melville confirmed the damage to Barbados TODAY.
“We got a call this morning saying that a lot of our chairs and cushions had been washed out to see so I got there as early as I could. We tried to rescue what we could but we lost more than half our umbrellas – about 50 or 60 – a lot of your cushions as well.
“We went from St Albans all the way to Speighstown pulling our property out of the sea and off the beach. Our guys worked really hard today. Each of those cushions we got are $500. Even a lot of what we rescued were completely damaged. It was a rough day,” Melville said.
The high waves led to speculation that a tsunami was threatening the island, with a message circulating on WhatsApp stating that Barbados was among over 30 countries under tsunami alert following a 7.9 magnitude earthquake in Costa Rica.
However, the Department of Emergency Management (DEM) and the Barbados Meteorological Services dismissed the message as nothing but a rumour.
MET Director Sonia Nurse said while the high surf advisory and a small craft warning would remain in effect until Wednesday, March 7, this did not signify a tsunami threat.
She also emphasized that tsunami warnings issued by the MET Office would not be transferred to the public via WhatsApp, but through official sources, including the Barbados Government Information Service.
Meanwhile, DEM Director Kerry Hinds explained that the MET Office was Barbados’ the focal point for tsunami warnings, and was responsible for issuing official tsunami information.
Hinds urged members of the public to ensure that information on hazards, alerts and warnings was received from official sources, and reminded persons that while there was no way of knowing if or when an earthquake would occur, they should know the natural warning signs of a tsunami.
March is Tsunami and Earthquake Smart Month here.