Over the weekend, I watched from the sidelines in absolute bewilderment as yet again television reminded the world of Mother Nature’s awesome power—of our insect status alongside the relatively pachydermatous elements. It turns out that Japanese geologists had long ago forecast a huge earthquake along a major plate boundary southeast of Tokyo, and poured enormous resources into monitoring the faint traces of strain building in that portion of the earth’s crust. They had predicted in great detail the amount of property damage and the number of landslides such a tremor would generate. They had even given the conjectured event a name: The Tokai Earthquake.
All the meticulous and costly preparations amounted to little last Friday when what has been described as “the largest recorded earthquake in Japan’s history, a stunning magnitude 8.9 on the short list of most violent events since the dawn of seismology,” hit about 230 miles northeast of Tokyo, generating a tsunami that within minutes socked the coast of Honshu, Japan’s largest island.
As I stared numb with disbelief at the televised Japanese devastation, I couldn’t help thinking of our own flyweight Saint Lucia and the low-blow to the groin recently dealt us by the heavyweight Hurricane Tomas. We were caught with our pants down on the occasion, with no prior warning about what was to turn the initially promising weekend of October 30 into our worst nightmare since possibly Ravine Poisson. But what if we had known in advance about Hurricane Tomas? What might we have done to cushion the outcome? Could we have made, say, the Barre de l’Isle landslide-resistant? Could we somehow have prevented the Bexon River from overflowing its banks and washing away the homes of nearby unsuspecting residents? What might we have done about Fond St Jacques and other areas of Soufriere laid low by the hurricane?
I daresay we could have done nothing in two or three days that might have prevented Tomas from having its sneaky way with us. Indeed, after what happened this past weekend in Japan, including that unstoppable tsunami, I am tempted to believe we are in our circumstances as wingless birds on a rock surrounded by churning water, destined inevitably to be washed away by an angry wave. How ironic that many of us imagine ourselves safe in our air-conditioned concrete sanctuaries, unlike our less fortunate brothers and sisters in their sea- and mountain-side shacks, blissfully unaware that our presumed safe havens are also built on shaky ground, for the most part way below sea level.
Can we do anything about Dennery, Anse la Raye, Canaries and other villages close to the water’s edge, besides requiring residents to relocate while they still can to the highest ground? And if the government should declare Fond St Jacques, for instance, a year-round disaster zone, too vulnerable to support homes, schools and churches, what would the parliamentary representative for Soufriere say? Ditto Bruceville in Vieux Fort.
It should be remembered that whenever the DCA has refused building permission, or is slow in giving it, the authority is usually accused of playing politics—in our particular environment a sin punishable by death. In any event, should the government require Saint Lucians who live in hazardous areas to move when alternative locations cannot be guaranteed, when our island condition renders us all ever susceptible to hurricanes, storms and related landslides?
Please forgive the evident doom and gloom, dear reader. As I write, the air is unavoidably full of depression. On the other hand, it’s one thing to go down despite having done everything possible to keep your boat afloat. It’s altogether a different matter simply to lie down in the middle of the Millennium Highway in the hope that some supernatural power will save you from the wheels of life’s speeding Mack trucks. Trillions of frogs the world over that thought like that ended as road kill. Life in paradise would be a whole lot less precarious should we, for a change, assume, singly or together, more responsibility than we do now for our own survival.
We might start by dumping our dirty habits: let us immediately quit using our rivers as disposal units for every variety of waste. We should also bear in mind that the near indestructible fast-food containers we casually discard here, there and everywhere will come back to get us, sure as night follows day, one way or another. But then, we already know that. What we seem to know not is that Mother Nature has never permitted our species to mess-up past a certain point without demanding a high price.
Hopefully, we will never be required to pay the price that kills!