Due to the extensive damage and loss of infrastructure in St. Vincent and the Grenadines as a result of torrential rains and flooding on December 24th, 2013, the Second International Garifuna Conference organized by the Garifuna Heritage Foundation (TGHF) has been postponed. The originally scheduled date of March 13 – 16th, 2014 has been changed to March 13 – 15th, 2015 in St. Vincent. The first International Garifuna Conference was held from March 10th – 13th 2012 in St. Vincent and the Grenadines and concluded with the issuing of the Yurumei Declaration. The Yurumei Declaration called for, among other things, the convening of a Annual Garifuna Studies Conference or colloquium in Yurumei.
On December 24th, 2013 St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Yurumei, was hit by what many have dubbed a “Freak Storm”. Torrential rains caused flooding in many parts of the country on Christmas Eve night into the early hours of Christmas morning resulting in an estimated EC $150 million (USD $55 million) in damage.
During the course of the storm calls came into several radio stations and pictures were circulated on the social networks as persons expressed shock and disbelief as to what was happening. The airport was flooded out consequently causing the Metrological Office to be shut down. The capital, Kingstown was one of the first places to be affected, with many parts being under water. The Pediatric Ward and Accident and Emergency Ward at the Milton Cato Memorial Hospital, which is the only major hospital, was flooded and according to the Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, this will require no less than EC$3 million to do basic restorative work and equipment. An assessment will be made regarding possible repair of the country’s only CT scan machine which was damaged in the deluge.
Other communities severely affected were Buccament Bay, Vermont, South Rivers, Byera, Spring Village, Rose Bank and Georgetown. Many rivers became swollen beyond their capacity causing extensive damage to property and vehicles. Many bridges were also destroyed causing numerous landslides and many parts of the country became inaccessible including the village of Sandy Bay. These communities are considered areas where many Garifuna persons live.
The Central Water and Sewerage Authority reported extensive damage to at least two major water supply systems; Dalaway and Layou which resulted from the flooding of the Vermont/ Buccament river banks. The damage caused 75% percent of Vincentians to be without pipe borne water for the following three days and a few areas still remain without water. There was also loss of electricity in those areas that were extremely affected.
As of a result of the rains there was extensive damage to property including houses, and animals. Approximately three hundred (300) persons are now in Emergency shelters. Nine homes have been destroyed and over fifteen (15) others are reported damaged. However, the most devastating tragedies are the eight persons who were killed including a two (2) year old girl. A family of five died when their house was buried under a landslide. Five persons are still missing.
The Government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines has declared the country a Level 2 Disaster zone. Residents of affected areas are in the process of cleaning up and putting their lives back together. Relief is being sought from sources at home and abroad and the National Emergency Management Organization (NEMO) is coordinating the response to the disaster. Donations of clothing, food , medicinal supplies, bedding and other essential items are also being channeled through Vincentian consulates and Embassies overseas.
The Garifuna Heritage Foundation is reaching out to its members in affected communities. Together with our Community Representatives, the Government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and other agencies, TGHF will work and assist the communities in which we operate. Our goal is to identify appropriate resources and strategies for a sustained and long-term community recovery effort.