Surviving disaster – Part 2
by Anesta Henry
About 10:30 a.m on Christmas Day, Nolisha Miller was suddenly overcome by the urge to jump overboard –– from the cruise ship on which she was sailing. And why would she want to take such a daring –– or deadly –– plunge?
Why on a most joyous morning like this?
The most grievous of all tragic news received, as far as Nolisha was concerned, had given her little cause to live on herself. She had just learned that five of her relatives had suffered a shocking death when their two homes collapsed under the weight of a huge rushing, falling mass of water, rock and mud earlier in the wee hourse of the morning.
It was just about 2 a.m when the watery death struck at Rose Bank in St Vincent.
A strong desire to jump into the ocean would be Nolisha’s reaction to the agonizing realization that her 50-year-old mother Hazel Nanton Baptiste, 73-year-old grandfather Walsey Nanton, 68-year-old grandmother Horner Nanton, and cousins Yowani Bartholomew, 18, and Bernard Nanton would no longer be in her life.
Nolisha told herself that if all of her loved ones, whom she adored and looked up to, could have all perished together like this, there was no point to her living another day.
In an interview with Barbados TODAY last Sunday, as she sat in the home of another family member, directly next door to where the two unfortunate family houses had been crushed, and just a short while after she had returned from church worship, Nolisha told of the moments leading to her receiving of the heartbreaking report.
“Christmas morning, when I received the news, I thought I was in a dream. It’s like my spirit left my body,” she said.
Nolisha informed us that the daughter of a neighbour of one of her aunts, who lives in another part of St Vincent, was her room-mate on the ship where they both worked.
She said her room-mate Vanna Matthias, who spoke to her own mother by phone every day, had got wind of the tragedy around eight that Christmas morning, but never passed on the information to her until two and a half hours later.
Vanna just didn’t know how to. But she had to tell someone!
She ran to the offices but they weren’t open for duty yet. But she would go slamming and pounding on the doors, crying out for someone to talk to. When she did get attention and tried explaining, crew members pulled her in the office.
“No one knew how to give me the news. They called my head of department; and then they called my supervisor, and my supervisor still didn’t know how to break it. He just told me that I needed to go down to the crew persons’ office. And still I had no idea that it was some tragedy in my home, or concerning my family, or anything,” she said.
Nolisha, a former mass communication student of the Barbados Community College, knew her stay on the ship was coming to an end, and evaluating the strange behaviour of the crew officials, she thought they wanted to inform her of her flight date back home.
“So I was actually singing and humming going down to the office. I went to my room first though to tell my room-mate, ‘Okay, well, I am leaving you soon’. I was actually in a jolly mood at that time.”
Nolisha said that as she approached the office, her department head was standing at the door. He notified her that there was a storm back home. She replied, knowingly: “Yes, there was a storm.”
She further explained: “I knew that. I spoke to my brother the night before, and I was telling him, ‘Oh, you so happy; it’s Christmas and everybody home and I’m not there’.
“He was telling me, ‘Well, there was a storm and houses are washed away and some persons already dead’, and so on. So I said, ‘Okay, well, just as long as all-yuh safe’,” Nolisha added as she recounted the conversation she had with her brother on Christmas Eve night.
It was about 10:30 a.m. when Nolisha entered her department head’s office. There were other crew members standing. She told them “Good morning”. They replied with a “Merry Christmas”, to which she responded appropriately.
“But when I looked to my right,” Nolisha said, “I saw my room-mate and I wondered, ‘Why is she here? We live very good together; we don’t have any problems. What did I do?’ But I saw her eyes were red and watery, and I thought something was wrong.
“Still, I didn’t even think that it was about me. Vanna barely managed to tell me. She said that my house was crushed. She was hoarse. She barely managed to say that everybody was dead.”
On hearing that, Nolisha screamed out in deep doubt: “Everybody?!!!”
She turned to the exit of the room –– to make that leap overboard, an intention she did not say out loud.
But the vigilant crew members restrained her from leaving the office, fearful of what she might do. They did their best to comfort her and offer solace.
The ship was docked in Guadeloupe. It was here Nolisha and room-mate would spend Christmas Night –– at a hotel –– before taking the early morning flight to St Vincent.
Nolisha would be eventually taken to the disaster spot on Boxing Night, when family members thought she could handle it. “When I came here [to Rose Bank] in the night, I saw nothing. It was all darkness and all rubble,” she said, shaking her head.
“What broke me down the most is that my father was in the road waiting for me. He was there alone sitting. My mum is gone and everybody else is gone; and he was there sitting alone.
“I was just overwhelmed and I was crying and screaming . . . . I just could not control myself.”
That was only the beginning of a mountain of emotions.
Nolisha was overcome with grief at the funeral held in Rose Bank for four of her fallen family members. It was reported that before, throughout and after the service she was so overtaken by grief that she continuously wailed “Noooo”.
At one point, as her uncontrollable loud crying echoed throughout the church, one of the priests left the platform and took her to sit with him where he consoled her. She was among the very last to leave the cemetery.
Nolisha said the wounds were still fresh –– for all other surviving family members as for her.
“In the night time it gets lonesome because, as you can see, we are a very close family. For me, personally I feel like I have lost two mothers and a father also. I was not around my mother all the time because she lived in Barbados and I went to school here most of the time, and my grandparents were also my parents.
“They took care of me, sent me to school and cooked and washed for me.”
Sitting by her father Roderick Baptiste, cousin Clayvorn Robertson and brother Dilron Millar, who were also in the house when the incident took place but managed to survive, Nolisha said she felt as though she had been robbed of those who inspired and directed her life.
“I still feel there are things I could have learnt from my grandparents and my mother. I am 22; so I still have a long way to go. I still feel like I need to learn their humbleness, their patience and the tolerance that they had,” she said.
Managed to maintain her composure throughout the interview, Nolisha declared that the deepest wound she had suffered was the loss of her mum.
She last saw her mother in November in Barbados when the ship on which she was working docked in Bridgetown.
“She was not only my best friend, but she was also my confidante. We did not see eye to eye sometimes, but she was not one to stay mad.
She would say something, but she would not shout. She would give her opinion and then come back and say: ‘No-No, yuh hungry?”
One month on, Miller is still asking herself how she is going to get through this difficult part of her life –– and has been requesting of God the strength.
“I am not praying as I should. I have lost some faith . . . . I am not saying that I should ask what’s the sense of praying; but I am not praying as I normally would.
“Even though I am still sleeping with The Bible next to my pillow, opening it is a different case. I am reading, I am not praying as I should, I am not talking to God as I usually would. I am angry, I am heartbroken.”
As broken-hearted and angry as she is, Nolisha knows she must be strong for her remaining family, as they will be depending on her.
“My dad is leaning on me in terms of what my mother would normally do. I want to stay with my family for at least a year. I spent 22 years of my life back and forth. I would go over to spend some time with my parents; and I went to school in Barbados for some time. So right now, I just want to be settled in my life for once. And I know my dad does not want me to leave right now. I will stick around for a while.”
Nolisha and surviving family members have been temporarily relocated to Kingstown –– a new beginning, she anticipates, especially as it relates to moving from her country life to the urban.
Tomorrow, a villager whose Rose Bank home was turned into a treatment centre; and the neighbour who is living “on the brink”.