Surviving Disaster – Part 1

The site where the two houses collapsed and killed five people at Rose Bank, St Vincent.

by Anesta Henry

The Yuletide season will never be the same again for this family of Rose Bank in St Vincent.

These relatives of the five who died when two houses collapsed under the weight of a landslide on Christmas Day are still trembling with pain and shock at the tragedy.

With the incident that claimed the lives of 73-year-old Walsey Nanton, 68-year-old Horner Nanton, 50-year-old Hazel Nanton-Baptiste, Yowani Bartholomew, 18, and Bernard Nanton still vivid in their minds, surviving family members Roderick Baptiste, Clayvron Robertson and Dilron Millar sat at a nearby family member’s home with Barbados TODAY for their first official interview, one month later.

When the team arrived around midday on Sunday, kind-hearted neighbours were assisting in removing the rubble and damaged contents of the crushed houses –– both located at the entrance to the village, now a sad and unforgettable site.

A black flag fluttered from the roof of a shop attached to one of the village houses. Church service had just ended and the area was solemnly quiet, with most residents in their homes.

The surviving Nanton family gave their touching and heart-wrenching versions of what they could recall of the flood on that night and of their being trapped at various points in the four-bedroom structure. The second house, also a wall structure, was unoccupied.

Roderick Miller lost his wife,50-year-old Hazel Nanton-Baptiste.
Roderick Miller lost his wife,50-year-old Hazel Nanton-Baptiste.

Roderick said it was almost 2 a.m. when his wife Hazel got up and went to the bathroom, when, suddenly, she called out for her brother Wendell Nanton (also a survivor, but who was not present for the interview). He said it was a call that prompted him to get rush out of bed.

“All I can remember hearing was Wendell telling his mother to move the transformer. When I look I see water running through the house. The house has two doors; so I opened one in the kitchen so the water would come through and run straight out. When I heading back to open the other door, I hear was like a truck dumping out stuff.

“But that time, it was the slide that come down and hit the house that hard. About five or so minutes after something else come down again and push what was on me a little further and then my head come out and I could have breathe from there,” he said, explaining that the force of the slide buried him under the rubble.

Roderick, 46, said that about ten minutes later, his brother-in-law came to his assistance and freed him. But sadly, by then, his mother-in-law and wife had already been covered up on the other side.

“The whole house come down, but I wasn’t close to them,” Roderick recalled.

Clayvron thought that she was going to die on that night and she believes that after being knocked out and thrown into an unconscious state, she had reason to think that way. She said after consciousness returned and she had a vague understanding of what was happening, she rushed out of her bedroom and ran into the living room to help her grandmother with her disabled cousin Bernard.

Her grandfather was also disabled, being a recent amputee, and her grandmother had a broken leg.

But on her way “something came down” and she was washed to another part of the house and was left unconscious.

When the 26-year-old student regained consciousness, the position she was in and what she saw left her thinking that only worse could have been in store for her.

“I remember I was buried from my shoulder down and only my head was out. I was there a while and I saw my uncle, so I start calling him and he came and he tried to lift some stuff off of me, but they were so heavy that he had to leave and get help. And then, I saw my father and another man and they tried to pull me out. But while they were trying to pull me out another slide came down and they were washed away,” she said.

At that time, Clayvron was completely covered. Being caged in by debris and water made it impossible for her to breathe. She was about to give up because, again, she thought she was experiencing her final moments alive.
“But as I was about to take that last breath my father [who does not live at the house] came and he cleared my face so that I could breathe a little. My uncle came and lift this big thing off me and they had to tear my nighty off me and pull me out,” said Clayvron who lost some of her teeth, sustained a split chin and lip, hurt her shoulder and received bruises about her body.
“I just thought that I was going to die,” she repeated.
“That was it. It was my time. And then I thought about my grandparents and that was just painful. I actually thought that everyone in the house was going to die. I know I heard Roderick and Dilron screaming bawling for help but at that point I couldn’t talk, I couldn’t scream, for a while,” Clayvron said, in soft tone.
Dilron, the youngest of the survivors did not have much to say. Reliving that night was too painful for the 18-year-old, which was evident when he cut his story short and was unable to continue.
He remembered he and his cousin Yowani, who was spending time at their home, waking up and seeing that they were surrounded by water. Dilron said he told Yowani that they should take the bed off the ground and place it at a higher level.
“While we were putting the bed someplace higher, I told him that my phone mash up because it was on the ground and the house was flooded.

“How the water was flowing in the house, I say, ‘Wani I frightened’, and he just laughed. And then he went back and look for his phone and as soon as I was about to go back to look for my phone too, all I just see is darkness”.

And with that darkness, the next time Dilron saw his cousin again, he was dead.

Dilron’s sister Nolisha Miller, who also lived at the house, but was at work on a cruise ship at the time of the incident, continued to speak for her brother. Nolisha said: “He has a difficult time speaking, but from what he told us, our mother Hazel was buried up and he was holding on to her hand and her last words to him was to live life and behave himself.

“She was underneath, buried, and was crying. I suspect another slide came and pushed him away from her. He couldn’t help get her out or pull her because if you look at the site, its a lot of concrete and big slabs of stuff there.”

According to Roderick, around minutes to 3 a.m., through the condition of the houses and the fact that no voices or screams could have been heard, it was impossible to think that anybody was alive.

Four of the deceased were laid to rest in Rose on Saturday, January 11, and Yowani was laid to rest on Thursday night in Barrouallie.

The family members said that the government had assisted them and churches had also come aboard and offered spiritual guidance.

“We don’t feel that we are alone in this. But there is this hole in our hearts still that nothing can fill it. We still feel empty inside.

“In the initial process we would have had a lot of assistance. But after the funeral and the road ahead, they would disappear and that’s the major thing. We lost the heads of the family really. Those who are gone were the heads and the ones who kept us close. The good thing is that we are still surrounded by what’s left of the family,” said Nolisha, adding: “We spend a lot of time talking about good memories and reminiscing about good times.”

While struggling to fill that void of their departed loved ones, the close-knit family members said that they were not burying their heads in the sand and ignoring the reality that life must go on.

Soon they will be relocated to a temporary place in Kingstown, but the family desire to once again have their own home on their own land. The newly built house which was unoccupied was constructed by Roderick and Hazel, who both spent quite a number of years working in Barbados.

“I miss my wife because she was everything; she was a real person. I just trying to hold the faith and see how far we can go. We lost everything. We have everything, but we don’t really have nothing. We have life, yeah, but we don’t really have nothing. We don’t have a house. It ain’t easy,” said Roderick.

Why was the island not warned about the weather system? This is the question Roderick says he is asking himself up to this day.

“With this disaster, nobody really say nothing about it. If they did say something about it probably people would have been more alert.

“But nobody didn’t know about this weather at all. I guarantee if they had put a warning out, you might have been more on the alert,” the professional tiler noted.

The family said they were also disappointed in the lack of a rapid response from health care officials, police and other response teams.

“I don’t speak about it, but I feel disappointed that I was told that my mother was not totally gone at that point; she was still fighting for her life. At the point when they pulled her out, she gave her last tremble.

“They were trying to call the police station for hours and they were not getting anyone. I am thinking if it was some other country and there were more persons there to help and there were proper health care officials on the spot, maybe some persons would have survived,” Nolisha remarked.

Adding his view on that matter, Roderick said: “Even though they come too, they didn’t come with no sort of gears. The neighbour down there is who lend them the sheet to wrap up the people in and lend them a ladder to carry them down the road in, to carry them down to the bay side because no road transportation was there. So them had to use the sea water. It wasn’t nice.”

In part 2, we will present a detailed account from Nolisha Miller, one of the surviving members of the Nanton family, of how she received the news of the loss of five close relatives.

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