Working together: Residents clean up in Castries, St Lucia, on Friday, after the destruction caused by heavy flooding on Christmas Eve. —Photo courtesy CAMERON BROWNE


Anthony lauds St Lucians’ spirit

By Joel Julien

DESPITE St Lucia being battered by heavy rainfall that destroyed several arterial roadways around the island, the heart of the St Lucian people has remained unbroken.
This is what the Express observed when two members of the newspaper joined a media corps that visited St Lucia on Friday aboard a Caribbean Airlines flight transporting emergency supplies to the island.
On Christmas Eve, St Lucia was one of three Eastern Caribbean islands hit with extreme weather.
Six people have been confirmed dead in St Lucia, with hundreds being forced out of their homes because of heavy rain.
Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar requested this country’s Office of Disaster Preparedness and Management (ODPM) mobilise food and emergency supplies to be sent to St Lucia.
A Caribbean Airlines Boeing 737 aircraft was chartered to transport some supplies, including water, mattresses, canned goods and hygiene kits to St Lucia.
The flight was originally expected to leave Piarco International Airport at 12.30 p.m. on Friday.
Around 3.15 p.m. passengers boarded the plane.
The flight had 20 passengers—16 of whom represented eight media houses, and Persad-Bissessar’s press secretary, Francis Joseph.
Around 4.05 p.m. the plane’s pilot Capt Dexter Baksh announced that Hewanorra International Airport in St Lucia was congested and everyone was asked to disembark.
Just under half an hour later, everyone boarded the plane again.
The flight left Piarco at 4 .40 p.m.
At 5.30 p.m., the plane arrived at Hewanorra International Airport.
This airport had been shut down for a day and a half as a result of the inclement weather.
“This airport was shut down because it too was overwhelmed by a very, very, very heavy overflow of water from a nearby river, so there was a lot of debris here at the airport,” Prime Minister of St Lucia Dr Kenny Anthony told the local media corps.
If we had not been told this, we would not have guessed.
Customs and immigration officials from St Lucia operated efficiently.
They smiled.
They struck up casual conversations.
If one of the Customs officials had not shown Express chief photographer Robert Taylor photos on his phone of the devastation he witnessed around the island, you would not have known he experienced the situation firsthand.
The Trinidad and Tobago media group was then ushered to the VIP lounge.
There Anthony’s press secretary, Jadia Jn Pierre-Emmanuel, greeted us.
She escorted the local media to the cargo shed, where the supplies from Trinidad and Tobago were being stored.
“We were concerned about the airport getting people in and getting people out. But the crew, they worked very hard—from the manager right down to the cleaner, they were on board to get this airport back operating in record time, so we must say thanks to them,” Pierre-Emmanuel said.
While Pierre-Emmanuel was talking to the media, Anthony walked in, dressed in jeans and boots.
He was muddied.
Anthony is the Member of Parliament for Vieux Fort South, where Hewanorra International Airport is located, and had been visiting households that were affected.
Vieux Fort South was one of the areas “hardest hit” by the extreme weather.
Anthony said despite the destruction, the spirit of the St Lucian people was “tremendous”.
He told of a businessman offering his services for free in order to help fix a road that became impassable.
Anthony said he saw young people out in the street with “pails and spades trying to clean up”.
He expressed concern about the “psychological impact” of the recurring inclement weather on St Lucians.
“I do not know whether St Lucians are becoming very stoic or whether it is a situation where they know what to expect, what will happen and therefore immediately as it happens then they put their shoulders to the wheel and try to rebuild their country,” he said.
Anthony thanked the Government and the people of Trinidad and Tobago for responding to their needs by sending supplies.
Following the interview with Anthony, transport was arranged for local media to witness firsthand the damage inflicted by the heavy rain.
When it was realised that the vehicles earmarked to transport the media would not be enough for the contingent, Anthony offered his personal vehicle to be used.
The first area of destruction we were shown was where a section of the Vieux Fort-to-Castries highway collapsed.
“To give you an extent of the scale, this is a former military, American military base during the Second World War. The Americans laid down infrastructure in and around this airport and that stood the test of time, but for the first time an area that they had a large concrete road which obviously was used for aircraft, the sea took part of it and this is the first time this has happened since 1945, and that gives you some indication of the power, the extent and the sheer volume of the water that travelled through this area,” Anthony said.
Some seven bridges were washed away across the island, Anthony said.
Several bypass roads were being constructed to ensure the free flow of traffic around the country, he said.
The next stop was the nearby Vieux Fort Technical Secondary School, which is being used as a shelter.
There victims who had lost everything still managed to smile. Children ran and played.
The majority of the victims came from the nearby Bruce Ville.
“Since Wednesday (Christmas Day), I am here. I have lost everything. I lost my stove, my bed, my fridge, my clothes, everything,” Eve Joseph-Deapen said.
Joseph-Deapen, who recently suffered a stroke, was at the shelter with her seven children and ten grandchildren.
Starr Robinson said she was walking home, when the road started to flood following heavy rain.
“I saw all the water. It reached up to my neck,” she said.
Robinson was at the shelter with her baby daughter, Vernette King.
“I was home at the time. I hear a lady saying, ‘Shanty Town flooding,’ but when I peep outside, the lightning was flashing and the rain was falling a bit. When I peeped outside, I did not see any water,” Edmond Hunt said.
“When I looked in the back, I saw the water rushing coming down by my side. In five minutes so, all my house flooded with water, so I just had to save what I could, save and get my son and walk through the water,” he said.
Water reached me all to my stomach. This one is worse (than 2001’s Hurricane Thomas). This kind of weather, I saw it in Canada before—but I never saw it all the years I am living here,” Hunt said.
Following the visit to the shelter, the media corps returned to Hewanorra International Airport. The Trinidad and Tobago contingent left St Lucia around 8.30 p.m.
• See Page 7
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