Neither a hurricane, nor a storm, it didn’t even have a name. It was just rain, rain — and more rain — almost ceaselessly, over the longest continuous period we can remember. From Christmas Eve to Christmas Day, it drowned hopes and left many with nothing but wet dreams of yet another dry and happy Christmas holiday.
We had no idea it was coming, but by the time we realized it, all of St. Lucia had already been hit hard – very hard. In just a few hours, at least five persons died, thousands of families were displaced and millions worth of property losses were reported.
Only on Boxing Day did we get enough sunshine to see the full extent of the damage, to start counting the losses – and begin the national mopping-up.
Mountains of mud and debris dotted roadsides as people cleaned-up homes, shops, stores, private properties and public buildings. No one saved much anywhere, most people directly hit being simply glad to be alive.
As usual, several hurricanes were predicted for 2013, but none came through. So, what was it that just hit us? We still don’t know… The costs of that one long day and night of rain are still being counted. The damage was ‘worse than Tomas’ in many areas. But did we really have to have been caught so off-guard? We still don’t know…
The signs were there, but we just didn’t see them. The weather reports warned of unusual rains. Dominica and St. Vincent were also put on alert. Local fishermen had stopped going out to sea, even before they were officially warned. But we were too busy ‘getting-ready for Christmas red wine and black cake’ to have bothered to even watch, far less listen. We’d also already erased any and all recollections from our memory banks that Tomas did also sneak-in on us like an early night thief.
While being hit, we prayed that God Almighty would spare us the wrath of a major national calamity on his son’s birthday. But by then, Mother Nature and Climate Change had already conspired to teach us yet another lesson about how the changed nature of global weather patterns today require more advanced planning and response than just building a national ark.
We still ignore calamities that hit other parts of the world, but right here on our TV screens — at the very same time we were watching the local damage in ‘shock and awe’ – there were ‘live’ images and reports from several cities in England, Wales, Ireland and Scotland, as well as in neighbouring European states, of entire communities submerged under floods caused by unexpected rains. People were being rescued from their homes with boats, Gatwick Airport was under water and Heathrow was canceling flights.
Same story from across the Atlantic: TV reports from Eastern Canada and the northern USA about millions being caught-up in an unexpected Big Christmas Freeze that saw snow and frozen rain wipe out electricity across several cities and states, sending millions scampering for generators or seeking warmth and shelter wherever.
The usual assumptions and presumptions prevailed after the fact, including the usual claims that “Its only God making us pay for our sins.’ But throughout it all, I’d (selfishly) decided I wouldn’t let the water or mud drown or dirty my spirit. I’d just completed four grueling weeks chasing elusive deadlines and just needed that break, holiday or not.
Armed with an i-Pad, three Smart Phones, a pen and a piece of paper, I hunkered down on Christmas Eve afternoon at Big Mama’s, my favourite Castries seaside watering hole. I called friends and family for updates and monitored the radio, TV and other media reports coming in on my phones. My gathered friends – by now long accustomed to my habit of turning a bar or domino table into a temporary desk –also got in on the act, monitoring Radio Lien Douce, the national cellular news and gossip grapevine.
One set of cell phones didn’t work, but self-anointed i-Reporters kept the local airwaves – and the Social media — alive throughout the night. The news coming in just wasn’t good. The images we downloaded were astounding. There was just damage and more damage everywhere. The traditional ‘Midnight Mass’ was cancelled and Christmas Day was about to become a Very-Bad-News Day.
As I sat, watched, listened and noted between sips of holiday beverages and slices of rare tropical marine delicacies, I felt good that we’ve fast become a nation very much alive to the role and importance of the media to communicate instant messages.
Information Technology has brought the world to our fingertips. Here I was in a most unlikely newsroom, surrounded by gadgets I hardly knew all about, but knew enough of to let me follow, see and hear all I wanted to without getting off my gilded perch. Pounding rain and rolling thunder be damned, I calmly fingered my notes into my electronic notepad while slowly raising my spirit level.
As I worked my hurricane-tracking New Media, IT and Hi Tech tools at my temporary bar-table desk, it dawned on me that another year was ending with me (again) pledging to next year ‘Read the Manuals ’ that came with the various gadgets that make my work so much easier, enjoyable and more fulfilling today.
I’m already so pleased with the little I know about how to use my tools that Twitter, Facebook and YouTube will again take a back page on my 2014 Diary’s Priority List while I upgrade directly to the Apps Store. In the meantime, I remain proud – very proud – that our i-Reporters know all they need to about how to keep us informed at home or at play, any day – or any night!