It wasn’t unusual to read and hear and see confusion during the unexpected weather phenomenon that turned our white Xmas dreams into a dark Christmas nightmare. That’s the kind of chaos that comes with emergencies, whether predicted or not. We’re never actually ready for anything of the kind – no matter how prepared the emergency services try to make us.
The likes of NEMO, the Red Cross and the Fire Service will jump high, jump low; Dawn French and Hubert Pierre will talk from now till their tongues hang; the weather and Climate Change people will continue to warn all year round; the churches will continue to call them Acts of God and the scientists will continue to blame our weather woes on Acts of Man – and we’ll all continue to search for ways and means to blame someone else.
Take the coverage of the recent Christmas trough. We definitely weren’t warned. The weather people are yet to explain why their equipment wasn’t working, the emergency people haven’t explained why their equipment wasn’t working. We’ve heard and seen the French people deny that advance warning information wasn’t available, but none of the above have issued a statement that will satisfy the press as to why our advanced warning systems didn’t work this time around.
Same with the reports about the Virgin Atlantic Airbus 360-300 that touched down at Hewanorra on a runway that had suddenly become a river… The reports from the airline and the UK press tell one story that the Captain got the okay to land but with no warning about the state of the runway and other airlines also complained the run way wasn’t cleared of debris before they were allowed to land.
Virgin Atlantic spokespersons made it very clear they were only interested in the safety of the 18 passengers aboard their plane and the damage to its fuselage. The reports from the regional media suggested the local air traffic officials gave inaccurate information – or none at all – to the approaching aircraft regarding the state of the runway. The local reports, on the other hand, have merely been echoing what the outside press has been reporting about what happened right here.
So, what really happened when the big, broad, massive and large jumbo jet landed in Vieux Fort that day? Take a look at the illustrated Google photo in this story (borrowed from the British press). If the plane really landed on a runway that had suddenly been turned into a river without warning, did anyone at the airport or in Vieux Fort – or on the tall plane itself – see the veritable tidal wave that would have been sent to the airport terminal, the airport warehouses and facilities and the neighbouring Vieux Fort communities after it landed as described? Has any local reporter or correspondent for the foreign press sought to find out whether there is (or was) a relationship between the landing of the massive plane, the waves it would have created and the massive losses suffered by so many in so many places nearby?
These are big stories worth pursuing. Not that I didn’t notice that the new WASCO General Manager got his baptism of fire from the most rain water the water company has ever had to handle, or that the new man in charge at the Met Office was in his first day(s) on the job after his predecessor retired when the Christmas Trough caught us with our pants down preparing for Black Cake and Red Wine, or that someone was so cruel as to set fire to a deserted ambulance at the Red Cross building at Vigie on the very morning that victims started turning-up for relief supplies on Boxing Day, or that there are still people who pretend to be disaster victims only to collect relief supplies to go sell ‘by the Market’ or in their roadside New Year stalls.
All are good stories, but the ripple effects of Virgin Atlantic Airbus landing, the questions still unanswered about why we were not warned and the mere possibility that we could (and therefore should) have known can tell better stories about who we are, how we behave in emergencies and how our media covers our own stories – or don’t – when others elsewhere ensure their coverage is (expectedly) slanted in their interest.
Now, take your pick!
Earl Bousquet is a veteran Saint Lucian born-Caribbean Journalist.