Like a thief in the night it appeared. Swift, stealthy, stripping all in its path of joy, spirit and possessions. Like Beyonce’s album it dropped. No warning, no promotion, but had everyone talking about its presence the next day and possibly for years to come. Christmas Eve 2013 will always be remembered for the storm with no name; seemingly anonymous but now infamous.
In the wee hours of December 24th, the rain started coming down, casting a damper on the day of many last minute shoppers hoping to get their last bits together before Christmas. Traditionally this is the day where the supermarkets are filled to capacity and the streets are littered with people in every corner. This year was no different. Except for the torrential downpour which was starting to sweep the island. As I scrolled through my twitter feed, debating whether or not to brave the weather in the name of missing ingredients for family lunch, I saw comments from several irate individuals who were put off by the downpour. But not overly concerned. Others were lamenting the spoke this could potentially put in the wheels of their plans to attend Saltibus J’ouvert. A bit inconvenient yes, but surely they would make it. Even when reports started coming in that Castries was flooded, many chalked it up to the usual ‘Before a little rain fall here everywhere floods.’ Nothing new really.
Then Bexon started flooding heavily. Bursting bamboo was replaced by booming thunder, and Christmas lights by sparks of lightning. Makeshift rivers started forming where there were once roads. Bridges had supposedly collapsed in Corinth, Canaries, and Piaye. More flooding in Anse-La-Raye, Micoud, Vieux-Fort, Dennery, Soufriere, and other areas. Vehicles were being washed away in the swirling current, water rising to high levels in houses, businesses, and mini buses.
But seeing was believing. Photos started streaming in. Customers and staff of a fast food establishment seeking refuge from the water on counter tops. A woman up to her neck in mud and debris inside her home. Vehicles wedged in odd areas at improbable angles. A deceased goat lodged on a rooftop. Airports and schools filled with muddy water. One of Vieux-Fort’s most recognizable roads now a larger than life jigsaw puzzle.
Panic started to set in. Many were stranded overnight in various areas while sheltering the storm. Phone services were erratic making it impossible for persons to be contacted by frantic loved ones. Word got out that one police officer had perished while trying to serve and protect. Midnight Mass cancelled. Mayhem ensued.
St Lucians are often criticized for their perceived indifference to disaster warnings. We’ve heard it before, despite the passage of several hurricanes and tropical storms, our people are prone to be a bit ambivalent in these matters. But this time we never had a chance.
In the aftermath, NEMO released a statement explaining the absence of information prior to the devastation.
“Forecasters could not predict this weather event as the Met Services equipment has been compromised. Additionally radar equipment located in Martinique, on which Saint Lucia’s Met Services depends for weather forecasting, was down resulting in severely hampered ability to analyze and predict this weather event.”
And what an event it was, usurping the thunder of the official event that locals were vigorously preparing for.
On Christmas morning many woke, if they ever even slept, to news that their fellow countrymen had been left homeless, hopeless, and helpless. No carols but a steady stream of updates and concerned callers on the radio. No Xmas greetings but words of encouragement. No mention of the most famous birth in history but the confirmed deaths of six. Ginger beer replaced by tears.
Dominica and St Vincent are suffering too, hit with extensive damage and loss. All three islands now bonded forever by the nameless Grinch that stole Christmas.