Published on 3 Jan 2014

Amid Britain's own storm damage, spare a thought for a faraway island

It came without warning in the midst of the dry season. On the very night Britain was suffering its own storms, power cuts and floods.

Saint Vincent, a small Caribbean island state, suffered one of the most violent storms in living memory. In the heart of the dry season, months away from the rainy weeks from June to September, the deluge came without warning of any kind.

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Between 9pm on Christmas eve and 1am on Christmas day, 11 inches of rainfall were recorded. The consequences in the hilly, volcanic, forested island were catastrophic.

Whole hillsides, weakened in the hurricane of 2011, this time gave way altogether. It is estimated that the country has lost 10 per cent of its forested land, and forests carpet most of the landmass here.

Staying on a neighbouring, though unaffected, island the other day, by chance I met the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) Minister Alan Duncan who, coincidentally, was staying on the other side of the island I was on.

We agreed to go together to St Vincent to see the damage for ourselves and meet with the island’s Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves.

He told us 13 of his 109,000 people had died, dozens had been  injured. Three hundred families are still homeless; 28 bridges have been destroyed, many roads have been washed away, and many homes damaged. Some 6,000 people will spend their eighth night without running water.

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The tragedy deepens as Mr Gonsalves talks of the development projects which keep having to be put on hold whilst resources are moved to cope with each emergency. He is in no doubt that St Vincent is in the eye of the storm that is climate change.

It may be difficult for politicians to announce funding for other people’s flood disasters when the UK is itself suffering. Yet the effect of the storm crisis here is hugely amplified by lack of infrastructure. The equivalent death toll in Britain’s population would have been 6,000 people.

The prime minister pleaded with Alan Duncan for immediate help that might tide them over until the Caribbean Development Bank (to which the UK contributes), the World Bank, and the EU can respond.

So Mr Duncan has come up with £100,000 for immediate aid and promises of further once specific needs are evaluated and costed.

The celebrity island of Mustique (part of St Vincent’s sovereign territory) has raised £200,000 inside a week, and sent blankets mattresses, clothing, and more.

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What is really needed here are immediate technicians – forestry experts, bridge builders, people who understand water courses.

So that a fast evaluation can be made as to what is needed and how far St Vincent can be protected against another such deluge.

Norway, Germany, Canada, all have such experts as do we. The prime minister tells me 50 of them would make a massive immediate difference to sorting out this crisis.

In the meantime as we drove around where we could with the minister for public works, a gifted man named Julian Francis, we could not reach the worst affected areas. Along our way, we could see endless groups of local people using their own simple implements to try to begin to assault the damage.

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Finally, spare a thought for St Lucia, an island I could not get to today.

They too were hit by the same storm. These are two former British colonies, now members of the Commonwealth.

As we in Britain battle our own storm damage perhaps it’s worth considering the value of being able to help others even less fortunate than ourselves.

If DFID is to mean anything to us, it must prove our agent in helping to resolve this far away crisis.

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26 reader comments

  1. margaret brandreth-j says:

    The whole flood, tsunama ,unstable, earth warming scenario is depressing Jon.. Can we ever reverse what we have done to our earth or is it, as I suspect too late? Where on earth can future generations move to , to be safe?

  2. Hilary Blumer says:

    At last some coverage of this disaster in an island that is my second home (I am a Vincie having married one some years ago, and would normally be with the family there at this time). Glad to report that the High Commission in London has just appealed for funds and goods to help.
    Whilst so sad for those in the UK who had a miserable Christmas, we at least have an infrastructure to put things right. Thanks to Jon Snow for this blog..I hope he appreciated the warmth of the people in spite of this tragedy, and will visit the islands again.

  3. Amandla Thomas-Johnson says:

    This is a welcome report. However, is there any way it could recognise that the country is not just a single island state (St Vincent), but is actually a multi-island nation called St Vincent and the Grenadines? The country consists of a string of islands including, as your report rightly mentions, Mustique, as well as others such as Bequia and Union Island, a 3km2 island where my grandmother happens to reside. Though St Vincent is of course the main island, these smaller islands would not have been immune to storm damage.

    I think it would be in the interest of accuracy to report this fact.

    1. jon snow says:

      Amandla I do recognise that..I merely concentrated on St Vincent’s because miraculously it was the only one of the Grenadines hit…it’s a beautiful part of the world and yes, with most lovely people.

      1. Rhonda Bradshaw says:

        So thankful for this blog and to finally get some coverage on this tragedy. Is there any chance though this item can be reported on the TV news? We need people to know of the suffering and the urgent help required. Thank you

      2. Envis Shallow says:

        I am so happy that Jon Snow had the chance and the insight to bring this story of this major disaster to our attention here in Britain .The main island of St. Vincent was were the storm hit the hardest and affected lots of this island on Christmas Day where lots of people was visiting for the holidays from Canada and Britain plus America who came and never went back as lives got lost young and old perished Which Mr. Snow showed the affects of the mainland I thank you Mr. Snow for the coverage you gave to this Former British colony.

      3. keith says:

        John,what Amandia saying is , when recognizing the country by right you should be saying “St Vincent and the grenadines” and not “St Vincent”. Then you can mention “St.Vincent the main land” where the severe damage accrued.

  4. Sarah Wood says:

    I was ship’s pursar on the MV Windward for a short space of time in 1999. Why I am saying this? As an introduction to myself. Climate change and its address is a difficult battle. Wrong choice of words – battle, but chose another. Like you, Jon Snow, I ride a bike but that simply is not good enough. I also do not have a car. Like most of Vincentians and St Lucians come to that.

    The MV Windward frequented St Vincent’s every Monday and Friday. Sometimes for longer, Christmas in Bequai. I use to swim ashore, EC dollars wrapped in a sarong. Nice times. Vincentians and many others deserve more from monied people that should know better. Thank you Jon Snow for raising awareness.

    The MV Windward docked at Castries for the weekend and there lies another story.

    Take care all of the Eastern Caribbean – you deserve better from us. I apologise.

    Sarah Wood

    1. Andy Zarse says:

      Hi Sarah, where is your evidence to link this storm to manmade climate change? AFAIUI even the IPCC has stated there isn’t a link to AGW? Why do you think it is not a totally natural phenomenon?

  5. Andy Zarse says:

    Can anyone show any evidence that this storm was caused in any way by anthropogenic influences? No. Where is the causal signal? There isn’t one. My family are from the Caribbean and it rains out of hurricane season, often and hard. Great solidarity with the Vincentians, but there isn’t the slightest shred of scientific evidence to support the fact that man has had a hand in the tragedy. Sorry.

    1. Philip says:

      And the earth is flat.

    2. Jean L. Mickey says:

      Andy, Thank you for your post bringing some sanity to this blog. The way these Global Warmists write, you would think there never was a rain storm, hurricane, or heat wave before Al Gore! There was even worse hurricanes 50..1000 years ago…land shapes were formed from these totally NORMAL storms…look at the shape of the USA Carolina’s and you will see the normal trail of hurricanes from 1000’s of years ago carving the coastline. WEATHER CHANGES… These people actually think that if they take up bike riding instead of a taxi weather would stay at 72 degrees every day? and it really cracks you up…GW people think that one little thing-co2 is totally responsible for the weather changing, and if they remove it there will be no change in the weather from one day to the next. Glad to see the USA isn’t the only country with citizens missing a large portion of their brain cells. And btw I witnessed hurricane Donna in NJERSEY, and many hurricanes , floods, snow storms, warm January’s and cold July’s in the south back in the 1950’s.

  6. Danielle S says:

    It’s great to finally see some UK reporting of the situation in my homeland SVG. Thank You!

  7. Anthony Durrant MBE JP says:

    Thank you Jon for a most helpful comment on the recent storm in the country of my birth and for your appeal to DfID. I have some experience of participating in DfID’s committees and I recall when Hilary Benn was it’s Secrtetary of State I appealed to him for DfID to give a bit more focus to the Eastern Caribbean islands in their development as opposed to the massive attention that they give to the Asian sub-continent. In ten years I have not seen any change to this policy of theirs and I doubt if we will see any as a consequence of this disaster in St Vincent and the Grenadines, St Lucia and Dominica.

  8. Buki says:

    Finally! A welcome report by mainstream media. Whilst we may never get the exposure and response for help on a major scale, efforts are being made by lots of Vincentians in the diaspora but we do so very urgently need the help of the experts to help rebuild the nation’s infrastructure. Let’s hope more big businesses read this report and donate building supplies. We have arranged free shipping with Winfresh UK for those who wish to donate.
    Thank you Mr Snow for raising awareness. Rebuilding SVG for locals and tourists alike.

    1. BG says:

      Great plug Buki, we do need building materials most urgently.

      1. Buki says:

        Yep! Raising awareness is one thing but we do need to be proactive there is a Facebook page for donations Facebook search CARE SVG or via the SVG High Commission. I am currently driving around South London collecting supplies and will be doing so all week. Email vincybrit@yahoo.com to help.

  9. Un-Known says:

    Hi I am born Vincentian living in the UK I am ever go grateful for each and everyone and the UK economy coming together to help my darest island St.Vincent in such difficult time ….We have lost many not just life but people possession but we shall recover

  10. monica says:

    Excellent report….and how lucky that both you and Alan Duncan were in the same place for your holidays!

    As you have correctly stated, none of the other Grenadine islands suffered damage. Can I recommend staying on St Vincent next time for a special Vincy experience, or another Grenadine island that isn’t just foreigners in a managed resort environment. You will benefit.

    Mostly, I do hope that your article helps get experts in infrastructure to aid this special island in the World with a Prime Minister having a major challenge to help his people prosper as well as provide education and health.

    If anyone would like to contribute funds to help St Vincent, http://www.actionbequia.org is providing an online support mechanism for credit card donations…select St Vincent Flood Disaster.

    And thank you.

  11. Kris says:

    FYI, other countries came to St Vincent’s aid before the UK. Taiwan donated a much larger amount and Trinidad also. It was actually Vincentian nationals at home abroad who stepped up immediately….Let’s give them all some credit as well

  12. bigsands says:

    It is very sad. I am making a contribution from our band, but significantly more help is needed urgently.

  13. Gus Franklyn-Bute says:

    There is an international appeal for anyone interested in either directly contributing funds or emergency items, or indeed who can at least pass on the details on how to help to contacts, friends, families and colleagues. More info here:

    http://acubien.com/caribbean-disaster-appeal-2014/

  14. Mia says:

    Thanks for the coverage Jon. It’s only part of the story though. Appart from the loss of life, many, many more are homeless and had no electricity and drinking water since Christmas Day.

    It’s not just the international scene that has come to our assistance, but many Vincentians have rallied to help each other.

    Yes we absolutely do need experts to help us rebuild. But as you mentioned, we lack the resources to deal with this ourselves. In the long term, we should have our own experts to help ameliorate and deal with such crises…

  15. Jennifer Richardson says:

    Hi Jon, I am a News Presenter/Communications Officer here on the island of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and I thank you so much for your coverage of this event. To often situations like these go unmentioned in the international press because we are seen as insignificant and to far away.

    I wish to say that today is January 5, 2014 and some people are still without water. Over 300 people are still in shelters and schools remain closed for an additional week. The condition here is dire with the most urgent needs being for water, food and cash. We are also in need of those experts you mentioned as many bridges were washed away and people now have to wade through water in some areas to get to the other side.

    We have been getting some immediate relief assistance and the very resilient Vincentian people have been trying to help each other but we are in need of much more assistance and will be needing it for the foreseeable future. Continue helping us get the word out and thanks again for your assistance. Thanks to all who are helping us in this our time of need.

  16. Joy Emmons says:

    Let me give you some Historical facts as to why Britain should not turn it’s back on the Caribbean Islands and why this Government should be ashamed of themselves for not wanting to help these poor Caribbean Islands who are in great need.
    This information was derived from the National Archive:
    Between 1662 and 1807 Britain shipped 3.1 million Africans across the Atlantic Ocean in the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Africans were forcibly brought to British owned colonies in the Caribbean and sold as slaves to work on plantations. Those engaged in the trade were driven by the huge financial gain to be made, both in the Caribbean and at home in Britain.
    Enslaved people constantly rebelled against slavery right up until emancipation in 1834. Most spectacular were the slave revolts during the 18th and 19th centuries, including: Tacky’s rebellion in 1760s Jamaica, the Haitian Revolution (1789), Fedon’s 1790s revolution in Grenada, the 1816 Barbados slave revolt led by Bussa, and the major 1831 slave revolt in Jamaica led by Sam Sharpe. Also voices of dissent began emerging in Britain, highlighting the poor conditions of enslaved people. Whilst the Abolition movement was growing, so was the opposition by those with financial interests in the Caribbean.
    The British slave trade officially ended in 1807, making the buying and selling of slaves from Africa illegal; however, slavery itself had not ended. It was not until 1 August 1834 that slavery ended in the British Caribbean following legislation passed the previous year. This was followed by a period of apprenticeship with freedom coming in 1838.
    Even after the end of slavery and apprenticeship the Caribbean was not totally free. Former enslaved people received no compensation and had limited representation in the legislatures. Indentured labour from India and China was introduced after slavery. This system resulted in much abuse and was not abolished until the early part of the 20th century. After indenture, Indians and Africans struggled to own land and create their own communities.
    Wake up Britain, show the world how much you really care. Help those who have been made helpless by the greed of others.

    One Love
    Joy

  17. Justin Underwood says:

    We live in Guildford, Surrey and were there that tragic night, (with the 11 inches of rain) staying at Buccament Bay Resort in SVG. Thank you Jon for highlighting this tragedy and bringing it to so many peoples attention especially in the UK.

    I must praise the staff and guests who were truly wonderful on the night and the days following. Our thoughts and prayers are with all the wonderful people of SVG; we saw so much devastation on the road back to the airport, it was unbelievable. Lets help them all rebuild. I must thank Gus, Monica, & Buki above for highlighting where we can donate.

    Thank you again all

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