Several alarmed residents in the Cul-de-Sac and Odsan areas, as well as further afield, on Tuesday called the National Emergency Management Organization to report and seek advice about what they believed was an earthquake. Others referred to a blast that had shaken them to the core. It turned out there had been an explosion at about 5.30 p.m. at a quarry operated by well-known local businessman Rayneau Gajadhar, located at Cul-de-Sac.
Acting police commissioner Milton Desir was one of four panelists at a related press conference the next day. Also on hand was a NEMO official, a representative of the Government Information Service, and chief medical officer Dr. Marlene Frederick. It emerged that 21 victims of the blast were taken to Victoria Hospital “within minutes after the incident.” One was pronounced dead on arrival; two died at the scene of the explosion. Four others in critical condition were flown to Martinique.
At the press conference NEMO director Velda Joseph explained that the organization operates on two pillars: emergency preparedness and coordination of response. She said “the second pillar was brought into sharp focus yesterday afternoon with this incident.”
The attendant press representatives were reassured that the fire service had responded “immediately to a call from someone near the quarry site”. The acting fire chief Joseph Joseph said casualties were already being transported to hospital by private vehicles when the fire service arrived on scene.
By all Dr. Frederick said, staff, on- and off-duty, stayed back to assist and had worked tirelessly for 24 hours straight. “We’d like to commend the entire health team,” she said. “In terms of response, Victoria Hospital activated all of its staff . . . we had a significant number of community doctors and nurses who actually went into the emergency room.” The staff at Tapion Hospital, medical and non-medical, received high praise from Dr. Frederck.
As for what had caused the murderous explosion, acting fire chief Joseph Joseph said: “All evidence on the scene will be tested, some as early as tomorrow [Thursday]. After that we will have some information about the cause.”
Concerning regulations governing the storage of explosives, Desir said: “The protocol for the storage of imported explosive devices – an import permit from the Commissioner of Police is required. The explosives must be kept in a government storage facility. When explosives are needed, they are given on demand. This is the procedure for explosives lawfully obtained on the island.”
The conveners of the press conference offered their condolences to families who lost loved ones. A press statement was also issued on Wednesday by the branding and marketing manager at Rayneau Gajadhar Group of Companies, Jade Brown, former prime minister Kenny Anthony’s press secretary: “At this stage we give our unwavering support and cooperation to the investigators as they assist and support us in finding out the cause of this unfortunate accident. Our main interest at the moment is attending to and working with the families of the deceased and injured and further mourning with the nation for the loss of valued souls.” Reportedly, a half-brother of the company’s CEO perished at the scene of the blast.
Meanwhile an impatient public—despite official reminders that “the cause of the matter is under investigation,” and that “samples have been sent overseas for analysis” —has been clamouring for answers it feels could have been provided by the owners of the quarry, but have not. Moreover, that the police are themselves in a position to say whether the laws regarding storage of explosives were adhered to by the operators of the Cul-de-Sac quarry.
It is also not known who will foot the medical bills that are bound to be enormous, whether the company was adequately covered by insurance, and so on!