Times of disaster
LOOKING back during my lifetime, the great Hurricane David of 29th August, 1979, was the only real storm of such magnitude to strike Dominica since the previous one in the year 1930. Those in the know tell us there was no comparison between the two. David was in fact a Goliath, they said. My recollections include hearing a disc jockey on an American radio station in the wee hours of the morning uttering with bated breath a strong warning that Hurricane David was an exceptionally powerful storm and should be respected as such. Bear in mind the weather forecasts, such as there were, advised that David was headed directly for Barbados. But while Barbadians were battening down and bracing themselves for the fury of another Hurricane Janet, such as blasted them in 1955 along with Grenada, David, it seemed, ignored the script and smashed head on into Dominica. A teenage friend of mine whose family resided near the beach in southern Barbados wrote me about two weeks after Janet, telling me he was about to execute a splendid head dive from the family piano into their living room! Bimshire is flat and when water gets in it does not get out easily.
David's effect on Dominica was a lengthy visitation by horrendous winds with gusts seemingly around 200 miles per hour, causing almost all roofs to take flight like children's kites. Some rivers showed their worst behavior, leading to the loss of nearly fifty lives. It took months before most homes were reroofed, and airplanes flying over Dominica banked slowly to right and left to allow passengers to take leisurely look at the devastation.
My late friend Lorio Sorhaindo, who was the government Fishery Officer, hailed me loudly on the morning after David – only to solemnly advise that he had eleven bottles of Mount Gay Rum, which we ought to drink in view of our not knowing if we could ever again realize such opportunity! Despite all my remonstrations at the monumental scale of the assignment, I was prevailed upon to clink glasses in earnest. No need to worry! Even though all telephone lines were down – somehow a number of thirsty fellows gravitated to the residence at a corner along Federation Drive in Goodwill and quickly proceeded to allay all Mr. Sorhaindo's fears.
In my position as Sports Development Officer, I was able to note at a very early appraisal that Windsor Park had lost a number of roof sheets to its spectator stands and to its pavilion. The position at the stadium under construction at Canefield was not much worse! However, looters helped themselves to a quantity of roofing material to repair their houses.
Every effort was made to render Windsor Park as near fit as possible to savage what could have been left of the 1979 football season. It should be considered that almost all league football activity in Dominic was solely concentrated upon Windsor Park 36 years ago. It was not football, thoug, that was given attention at that juncture. Clive Lloyd and his dominant West Indies team responded to a call to play a cricket match at Windsor Park against Australia – an event to help the Dominica public to take Hurricane David off its mind. In no way was it a highly competitive affair. Greenidge, Haynes, Richards, Lloyd and others made short work of the brothers Chappel etc.
That mattered not in the least. Our public had seen the biggest names in world cricket and come out 10,000 strong, happy to pay to see the celebrities. The crown sat on stones, standing wherever they could, grateful no rain came to threaten their enjoyment.
Thirty-six years after David we have had tropical storm Erika inflected upon us. Not wind so much but rains pouring down in buckets with concentrated flash flood effect and attendant landslides and other damage and loss of life. Poignantly, it was my privilege to speak with friend Clifton Lewis about his sport table tennis and other sporting matters. That was about three weeks prior to Erika. Sadly, it was our last discourse. Clifton and his brother Billy were swept away by the Roseau River at the Paradise Valley area. May they rest in peace.
It has been good that the West Indies Cricket Board promoted a testimonial match in Barbados to aid in the Dominica relief effort. Every thanks to the iconic sportsmen who participated and thanks also to the Barbadian public for its splendid turnout.
Apart from the general social and economic impact, sports always take a bad beating from disasters of such monumental proportions. The psyche of sportsmen and sportswomen suffers setback p difficult to quantify – but very much there all the same. At the very best of times, sports languishes in Dominica and is not given meaningful scope to serve its desired usefulness such as it can be in a small island state. One appreciates very much the extent of counseling offered to survivors of the storm. Emotional and psychological treatment to trauma victims is indeed vital to national recovery. Let us not, however, ignore the trauma or sports too can suffer. A vacuum caused by the demise of our sports infrastructure and attendant dislocation of activity pose incalculable harm long after the socio-economic scars have disappeared. A lost generation of youth hinders repair to the national image.