September 17, 2004

Mongoose Gang, Revolution, Coup d’etat, Invasion, Grenada has seen it all. But nothing could have prepared the people of this small country for what Hurricane Ivan brought when he cast his evil eye their way last week.
Now, one week later, as we approached Grenada from the northwest last Sunday, the immediate sight was deceptive. The first northern town we saw seemed normal, but then as we travelled further south the horror began to unfold before our eyes. {{more}}
The once picturesque hillside and deep valley villages seemed all as though they had been swallowed up by some mammoth animal and then spat out along the landscape. Debris was scattered all over the hillsides while what remained of once lush vegetation were only trunks and branches totally stripped of their leaves. And that was for those that were left standing.
As our nine-seat aircraft descended closer to ground, the true horror revealed itself. We knew that “Ivan the Terrible’s” category four winds had rested on this country of 90,000 with gusts of up
to 145 mph and had wreaked havoc with the entire country. It was one thing to have heard that 90 per cent of the housing stock had been damaged or destroyed, but it was quite a different experience seeing it yourself. Most of us onboard wer at a total loss for words, which came out only in monosyllables.
On the ground the sight that greets you is even more depressing. There was still an upturned aircraft ramp lying on the grass beside the tarmac. The Point Salines Airport terminal, constructed by Cuban engineers during the turbulent and short-lived revolutionary reign of former Prime Minister Maurice Bishop remained intact. However along the stretch of road leading from the airport most of the buildings showed evidence of serious structural damage with roofs missing and bits of galvanize sheeting or bits of wood or other materials strewed about the ground. This was our welcome.
These scenes of destruction were repeated all along the way as we drove by neighbourhoods where weather beaten residents wandered about, some already attempting to repair rooftops to get their lives back to some near semblance of normalcy.
We drove to the
docks where the MV Glenconner, a vessel which normally plies the route from mainland St. Vincent to the luxury resort island of Mustique was still being offloaded by a contingent of the Cadet Corps. The male and female cadets were assured of safety under the watchful eyes and guns of members of the Regional Security Services (RSS) who had to be deployed to stave off acts of piracy that had been reported earlier. The Glenconner carried foodstuff, water and other supplies donated by the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines following an appeal from the Chamber of Industry and Commerce.
On the docks too was former Prime Minister Sir James Mitchell dressed in flowered shirt and shorts who had sailed from his home base of Bequia, the largest of the Grenadines, to accompany donations raised by the people there. He was warmly greeted by Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves who had flown in to Grenada along with his St. Lucian counterpart Dr. Kenny Anthony for a meeting with Grenadian Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell.
These emergency supplies were being off loaded in the area of what should have been a marina for yachts from all over the world which took advantage of Grenada’s many inlets and coves to anchor. In fact some yachts had reportedly been advised to seek shelter in Grenada after Hurricane Ivan had been headed for a direct hit of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, only 68 miles north of Grenada. Now scores of vessels lay huddled together in a mangled mass of masts, and hulls where they had been all pushed together by Ivan’s ferocious winds and resultant waves. Prime Minister Anthony stared in disbelief as he contemplated the spectacle.
En route to the private residence of Dr. Keith Mitchell at a place called strangely enough, Happy Hill; the scenes of devastation repeated themselves. Every major supermarket and dry goods establishment along the way bore signs of vandalism, the result of opportunistic looters who took advantage of the absence of law enforcement in the early hours following the passage of the storm to make off with items of both perishable and non perishable goods.
We met a desperate looking crowd of persons on the Carenage, the waterfront of the once picturesque capital St. George’s and stopped to find out what the commotion was about. We discovered that they were all waiting for clearance from armed police to salvage what was left of an already looted warehouse. We entered the facility to find a ransacked mess of food that had been trampled on and now lay in a mess. The shelves were all now bare! Several of the persons outside nevertheless complained that they were only trying to get food for their families. One man explained that the owner of the establishment had earlier come to survey the damage and had given the all clear to the desperate crowd to recover what they could. We however decided to move on when the security firmly warned us he was about to spray the crowd with mace to control the agitated bunch.
Our team, including two journalists from St. Lucia’s Government Information Service (GIS) then continued on to survey the disaster.
We stopped and gazed in awe at what was once the pride of all Grenada, the National Stadium. The pavilions from the soccer and athletic stadium all lay in a mangled mess on the synthetic track. It seemed the force of Ivan’s winds had twisted the steel frame in a manner one would wash cloth to extract water. The cricket stadium on the other side had suffered a similar fate. The electronic scoreboard lay flat on the outfield while the modern media and broadcast box at either end of the cricket pitch was totally destroyed. So too the once fancy private boxes. Grenada can therefore forget about hosting any cricket matches for a while. Well at least about accommodating anyone in those stands.
The most assuring signs we saw were that of some technicians from the Grenada Electricity Services working at restoring damaged lines. All of Grenada’s streets were strewn with fallen telephone and electricity poles and their lines that seemed overburdened by the sheer weight of the battering they had suffered.
We visited what remained of a school at Happy Hill close to the private home of Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell where the entire top floor of one section had lost its roof while several families occupied the half covered section of another building. The forlorn look on the faces of these residents housed there told the story. For many of Grenada’s people, there remains the big question, just when will their lives ever get back to what they can consider normal? Comfort for now is clean water and a night’s sleep under a roof which for many for a while may not be their own.