St Lucia has never before had an uninvited guest quite like Tomas. For many St Lucians, October 30 started off like any other day. Those who didn’t really pay attention to the weather report wouldn’t have a clue there was storm, much less a hurricane looming until minutes before Tomas touched down. At that point it was a mad rush to the supermarket to get stocked up on water, food and other supplies.
The morning of October 30 would be the last ‘normal’ day for some. As hurricane Tomas touched down with furious winds and heavy rain and continued overnight and into the morning of November 1, the faces of some communities would change forever.
St Lucians around the island spent the night huddled around radios waiting anxiously for any sort of news with their houses lit up only by candles or torch lights. Tomas, a Category 1 hurricane, with maximum sustained winds of 90 to 95 miles per hour, with higher gusts swept though St Lucia complete with excessive rainfall, 533mm in 24 hours to be precise.
As night turned into day and Sunday finally arrived after a seemingly endless night of howling wind and flying debris; in the form of tree branches, furniture, galvanized roofing and other assorted material, the decision to remain indoors would not be regretted. Bridges were gone in at least two places in the north, and at one of those locations, a jeep hung precariously over the edge where the bridge collapsed. The driver narrowly escaped injury.
Phone service in the south of the island was nonexistent, and there was no telling what kind of damage had occurred there. Even in the north, with the exception of back roads, some of which no one knew existed before hurricane Tomas, there was no way to get around. People who couldn’t reach family in the south were in panic mode and many decided to make their way down south by any means necessary; some by boat, some driving as far as they could, then walking, hitchhiking, climbing and doing everything they could to get to the ones they loved.
Jounen Kweyol was cancelled, but the day after Tomas, some people still found reason to celebrate and as St Lucians drove around using the alternative routes, people who lived along the back roads were spotted eating, drinking and being merry as
usual, while bodies were still buried underneath mud in the south. St Lucians had to be told over the airwaves to keep off the roads as emergency and other service personnel were trying to get things back in order but were caught in traffic like everyone else!
Tomas talk has died down but some communities are still suffering from post Tomas effects. St Lucia still has to deal with a far less than satisfactory water quality level. No one can forget the mud tinged water post Tomas. At least the water ‘flavour’ now beats the taste immediately after Hurricane Tomas—or perhaps we’ve just gotten so used to the bad taste of the water that we don’t even notice it anymore! Articles like, “How Safe is the Water Mama,” appeared on the front page of this newspaper, where the writer questioned whether there was an even greater tragedy than Tomas waiting to happen because of the issues with water quality. WASCO said the water crisis post Tomas was unlike any other in St Lucia’s history.
Water quality tests were carried out on a number of springs residents used for bathing, drinking and cooking in Mingy, Fond Ste Jacques, the most devastated community. The results proved alarming! The springs were all contaminated with waste from nearby pigpens. Like any other region, St Lucia was placed on cholera alert after Tomas, but many admitted that the issues with water quality in St Lucia wasn’t new. Many felt the issue could no longer be swept under the rug!
News of fires spread faster than the flames as Lucelec tried getting the power back on as soon as possible. In some places fallen trees had knocked down poles causing some wires to spring to life once the power came on resulting in disaster. It was even more of a disaster in some cases because landslides prevented ambulances from getting to the places where the fires were in the first place, including a fire at Lower Maynard Hill that engulfed at least three houses. Thankfully, no one was killed in that fire.
Just when we all thought it was over and students could return to school there were more rain and floods as a surface trough swept over the island compounding damage from Tomas. The city of Castries was almost totally flooded and the community of Bexon was plunged back under water. Schools, which had only been open to form fives that week, were closed once more and some businesses also closed. The roads Soufriere and the Barre d’Lisle were once again closed.
According to prime minister Stephenson King, government allocated EC$3.7 million to relief efforts. King amounted the potential weekly loss of income to the banana industry at approximately EC$2.0 million over the next six months. The agriculture ministry reported that an estimated 80 acres of land under open-field vegetable production was washed away, while a further 60 percent of greenhouses under production, sustained major damage. The fishing industry also incurred damage to the tune of EC$1.5 million.
A large number of schools suffered extensive damage and parents and students had to get involved with clean up efforts. Cleaning up was a difficult task to do with no water as twenty-eight water production facilities had been affected by Tomas. Schools remained closed for almost one month, only to be reopened on Tuesday, November 23.
“I believe this could be a defining moment in our history and we should seize the opportunity to start afresh,” King said.
The “serenity and greenery” of Fond St Jacques, particularly in areas like the Toraille Falls was a stark contrast with disaster zone Tomas left behind.
It was amazing what some places had looked like before and what they were post Tomas. Frankly, Fond Ste Jacques resembled a war zone. Houses were washed away and those that hadn’t been were buried in mud. Areas like Gesneau, Marc and Bexon as well as Soufriere were the hardest hit. A story entitled, “Fond St Jacques, Bread Basket or Caldera of Death” was run in the STAR newspaper.
“Fond St Jacques is not alone, as an example of poor planning of housing and settlement which comes with a number of other social ills,” the article read. “There are many others like it—disasters waiting to happen.”
Mingy part of the larger Fond Ste Jacques community, the most affected, was declared a disaster zone.
British Royal Navy Warship HMS Manchester arrived in St Lucia on November 2 to provides] emergency relief. The ship was deployed offshore at Soufriere as were other vessels representing agencies from all over the world. The French Army undertook a rescue mission to get residents from Fond Ste Jacques to a safer location by helicopter.
St Lucians residing overseas and those residing on island staged numerous fundraisers for hurricane victims. Some did volunteer work with the Red Cross and other agencies. The non-profit organization reached out to those in need all over the island, providing food and other relief supplies donated by others.
Some people recall their houses collapsing before their eyes seconds after they made their escape. Others weren’t as lucky. As the end of the month of November neared, at least five persons still could not be found. There were seven confirmed deaths at that point, with five bodies still not found. Sabbinus Thomas, his wife Eugenia Thomas and his children, Adisa and her 18-year-old Ali from Columbette all perished when their house went down with a landslide. Another man, a security guard who’d been at their home was also reported missing. Only the bodies of Adisa and Ali were found.
Theresa Joseph and her two sons Gabriel and Nelbert from Fond St Jacques also lost their lives after their house was destroyed when the hurricane ravaged the island. Lester Jn Baptiste from Ti Boug, Fond St Jacques also lost his life. Another woman also reportedly lost her life in a car accident when she was caught in the heavy rains.
Days after Tomas nine-year-old Clendon Emmanuel drowned under walkway on Thursday, November 18, the day of the surface trough. The boy was at home on Thursday as regular schools were still closed since the passage of Hurricane Tomas. Reports indicate that around 10am on Thursday, Emmanuel left his Rockhall home to run an errand.