The ripple effects of our disaster coverage

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.

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7 Responses to The ripple effects of our disaster coverage

  1. Sam says:

    e.g. divert to a neighbouring island where condition was suitable for landing as a safety measure?

  2. Sam says:

    5. Did air traffic control made the captain of the Virgin Atlantic aircraft aware of the runway conditions before attempting to land the aircraft? Was a general alert to all air traffic intending to use Hewanorra Airport not made; if not, why not?

    6. The captain would have been aware of the adverse weather conditions in the area. If air traffic control did not volounteer information on the runway conditions, did the captain of the Virgin Atlantic airbus seek information pertaining to the condition of the
    runway from them in order to decide whether it was safe to land the aircraft or not; or to decide an alternative course of action, e.g. divert to a neighbouring island where condition…

  3. Sam says:

    3. I would imagine that the runway would have been waterlogged but what exactly was the condition at the time of the aircraft landing on it? Was it suitable enough to allow an any aircraft to land on it or take off from it? Why was the decision to close the airport to all air traffic not considered at this time?
    4. Did air traffic control at Hewanorra International issue an alert air traffic control in Barbados, Trinidad & Tobago, Martinique and Antigua of the local airport condition?
    5. Did air traffic control made the captain of the Virgin Atlantic aircraft aware of the runway conditions before attempting to land the aircraft? Was a general alert to all air traffic intending to use…

  4. Sam says:

    A Virgin Atlantic wide bodied aircraft sustained damages while attempting to land at Hewanorra International Airport. I am going straight to some questions of my own – perhaps they may feature in current/future inquiries on the matter:
    1. Was air traffic control at Hewanorra aware of the condition of the airport runway before granting permission to land the aircraft?
    2. Given the fact that much rain had already fallen by then, was the airport runway and surrounding areas inspected to determine what action should be taken in the interest of safety?
    *****More questions to follow*****

  5. Sam says:

    No matter how you look at this one, it can at best be described as a “MESS”, at it’s very worse, can be described as a “TOTAL MESS-UP”. While I do not think it is correct to point blame willy-nilly, I think that the airport’s runway should have been closed to all air traffic until the it was thoroughly checked and cleared; given the deluge of rain and the amount of water I know the area would have locked around it. In addition, it would be foolish to assume that the air traffic controllers at Hewanorra and all assisting areas may have been able to warn any air traffic in the area intending to use (land on) the Hewanorra water-logged runway and had not done so. Can anyone confirm that…

  6. John says:

    there are some of us now ‘former’ St.lucians who are very very well off from abroad. However, SLU governments of either political parties, continually ignored us inspite of the fact that remittances back to St.lucia are and have always been critical for its economic well being.

    No political power for those living and succeeding abroad and no recognition for those who returned in vain attempts to impart international experiences locally. These efforts were usually met with disdain .

    The gravy train of international aid and the attendant blatant corruption was expected to continue for ever.


    When some of us consider what positive contributions that ‘Fail Helen’ has…

  7. Peter Alcindor says:

    Dear Sir,
    Would you know if the government will carry out any inquires over the disaster so that lessons can be learnt.
    Peter Alcindor residing in England.

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