Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Christmas Eve Floods

Christmas time in St. Vincent is one of the best times of the year.  There is Nine Mornings festival, Light Ups, there are the holiday foods (black cake, ham) and drinks (eggnog punch, ginger beer, etc.) and time with family and friends. Christmas time is also usually dry.  It usually signifies the end of the Hurricane Season and the start of the dry season.

However, this Christmas was neither dry nor happy.  This Christmas we were all taken by surprise when there was a freak storm that resulted in severe flash flooding, causing damage to homes, crops, infrastructure and most unfortunately a number of confirmed deaths and missing persons.

It was a very somber time, and a time to do some serious reflecting on ones own life.

The day started out normal enough, a bit over cast but like any other typical Christmas Eve.  I spent the day by my boyfriend’s family’s house. We went out for a bit in the evening but came back relatively early as it started raining. It didn’t take long for it to really start raining hard.

Once it started raining, it never let up until the next morning. It sounded like there were golf balls hitting the galvanized roof.  I was secretly convinced that it was hail. It wasn’t until later that I heard other people talking that they saw/believed it was hailing as well, that I started to feel a little less crazy. 

Then came the lightning and thunder.  The lightning lit up the sky like blinking Christmas Lights. Non-stop for upwards of 5 hours. It was unlike anything I have ever seen in my life.

Close to midnight after close to 4 hours of heavy torrential rains, we were in bed when we heard a loud crash.  We stepped outside to find that the entire bank 3 feet adjacent to the corner of the house had washed away, leaving a 20+ft landslide.  We also stepped out into 6 inches of water, which was almost approaching the threshold.

We decided to move to a family member’s house a little ways away.  For hours, the rain and lightning continued relentlessly battering the roof and lighting up the sky like someone flickering a light bulb.

The next morning we woke early, having got little to no sleep.  Honestly, I was terrified. I thought this was the apocalypse.

We woke in a very somber mood and not really realizing the full extent of the damage yet.  It was still dark and overcast. However, we had heard news from friends in the States that there had already been a number of deaths.

We woke to find no water, extensive debris (trees, bushes, etc.) strewn about. We took a walk through the village to see what was going on.  Many people were out and about, but it was not the typical jovial Christmas morning.  We found the bridge was washed away (only later to realize that it was completely buried by sand and boulders brought down the river by the floods). We noticed entire crops washed away, landslides, houses washed away or broken in half where the river carried part of it away.  We saw roads and buildings washed away or covered and flooded in mud/sand. This was just in one village.

Later, we learned that the main bridge connecting Georgetown to the north windward region had been sunken, another bridge was covered in debris, there were extensive landslides blocking roads.  This was just the beginning of the infrastructural damage.

Entire houses were flooded, washed away. The floodwaters also carried away cows, goats, pigs and people.  There were landslides that buried entire families.  People were living in emergency shelters for weeks, water supplies were damaged, contaminated or destroyed and were not restored for more than three weeks. Schools were closed for an extra week, as some were serving as shelters and others still had no water.

Supplies were brought in.  Trucks distributed bottled water and provided water tanks to communities to collect for bathing and washing.  I was fortunate to be by my boyfriend and his family. They took excellent care of me. Fetching water so I could bathe and wash my laundry or by doing my laundry in the river for me.  We did have to bathe in the river a few times. That was an experience; bathing in the open and walking down the main road in only a towel….

I was so worried about my house. But with no water, no transportation, blocked roads, damaged/missing bridges there was no way I could get back home. Living in the valley brings extra rain. I remembered I left some windows open.  I thought for sure that my house would be flooded or washed away.  After about a week, I made it home only to find absolutely no damage to my house or the valley.  It didn’t even look like there was a storm in my village.  After speaking with community members and neighbors it was evident that perhaps the valley protected us from the worst.  I was expecting massive landslides, blocked roads and major flooding where the 3 rivers combine. This is the normal damage after only moderate rains in the valley. To my surprise, the only evidence to suggest a storm/flood had occurred was a gathering of sand by the bridge.  The current never cut out, the water never cut out (a true Christmas miracle, because its always going out or muddy).

The normal cheerful and exciting energy of Christmas was definitely hampered. Instead it was a day to really reflect on all that we have and all that we should be grateful for.  It put everything into perspective and reminded us that nothing in life is guaranteed and can be stripped from our slight grasp at any time. 

It surely will be a Christmas I will never forget. I think it also served as a reminder that we all need to stop and reflect on all that we have to be thankful for on a regular basis. Nothing is certain, not even life. Life may suck sometimes, we may not get the things we want, things may not go the way we want but we still have our health, we have food in our bellies, a roof over our head and our life. For that we must be thankful.  Let us not be too lickerish.