Grenada will rise again


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Category: International Date: 20 Sep 04


Man can build skyscrapers, clone people, create incredible drugs, rocket to the moon. We sit proudly on little thrones of our own making-our little laurels-it could be a business or a home, or a pair of sneakers we've coveted. But the moment we turn smug, the elements crash down on us, humbling us, putting us in our place, reminding us of who we are-small, fallible specks on earth for the briefest of moments in the dark eternity that is time.


The worst thing about a hurricane-the lash of a 165-mph monster, killing 70 people in the Caribbean, devastating Grenada to the point of despair, and sending more than two million residents along a 300-mile stretch of the Gulf Coast running, is there is no-one to blame.


Lord knows we've had more than ample proof that man is helpless against the elements. An earthquake that was responsible for the deadliest landslide this century caused 40,000-50,000 deaths in western Iran on June 20, 1990. In 1960, the largest earthquake of the century with a magnitude of 9.5 killed more than 2,000 people in Chile. And the end-of-the-world earthquake with a magnitude of 8.0 claimed as many as 655,000 lives in Tianjin, China on July 27th 1976.


The human brain can only take so much knowledge of loss. We cannot absorb it. We become inured to it. Numbers of body bags become meaningless because the calamity is not close to us.


In this case it is. The monster we evaded hit our own clan in the Caribbean. The formerly lovely island of Grenada lies in shards and chaos. The International Federation of the Red Cross estimates 60,000 people are homeless, with 47 emergency shelters housing only 5,000 to 8,000 persons.


The emergency shopping list required in Grenada is poignant with basic needs. People are stampeding for water, food, shelter. They need first aid kits with oxygen, oral rehydration salts, disinfectants,-no one knows when electricity will be restored -they need battery operated lanterns, portable lighting generators, they need massive technical help to get electricity going again-they need engineers and architects, builders to evaluate houses.


They need some sanctuary for the elderly, children, and the very ill. They need to clear away miles of garbage. They need, they need, they need.


So now it's close to home. Our people (yes, they are our people-Caribbean people) are still in shock, barely comprehending the beast that bypassed us, dropped a bomb on Jamaica and absolutely pulverised Grenada.


Ivan splintered life in Grenada so much that entire living rooms-sofas, televisions, tables, all intact, floated in water. The everyday little intimate things in life that we trust will be there for us-old precious letters, china that is only brought out on special occasions, pots and pans that have served up hundreds of meals to families, underwear, laptops with yards of research or poems in them, mattresses, toothbrushes, socks, they are things after all, they aren't supposed to move, turn into rubbish, lie in ruins waiting to be disposed of.


Thousands and thousands of people, each experiencing their own loss, watching as the aftermath of wind and water soaks through their photo albums, wipes out their past, even devours their future-there is nowhere to work, nowhere to go to school, nowhere to shop for groceries, nowhere to sleep.


The elements have brought us to our knees all right, bulldozing and flattening humanity randomly.


But there is one thing they fail to do-break the human spirit. That is indomitable. It's stronger than the worst cyclone, hurricane, earthquake.


Think of San Francisco today, a charming, avidly multicultural city with cobbled, winding streets and a gracious bay. Now think of the earthquake that rocked San Francisco in 1906. This is a first person account:


"When the earthquake ceased to tremble, the city was in shambles. At least 3,000 people perished and 250,000 (two-thirds of the population) people were left homeless. The roads in the city had buckled up, pipes had been destroyed, wooden and brick buildings had collapsed, and everybody was stunned that such an event had happened to San Francisco. Because of broken power lines, caused by the earthquake, sparks started to rain across San Francisco, igniting leaked fuel from broken gas pipes, and splintered wood from collapsed buildings. The bubonic plague caused by the improper disposal of the dead bodies, claimed the lives of another 160. Damage was estimated at US$500,000,000."


At that time their Governor Pardee expressed the resolve and spirit of the people when he said, "The work of rebuilding San Francisco has commenced, and I expect to see the great metropolis replaced on a much grander scale than ever before."


And so San Francisco was rebuilt with the help of relief organisations such as the Red Cross, the government and other countries. In three years, 20,000 new buildings had replaced the 28,000 destroyed in the earthquake and fire.


Nobody looking at that lovely city today could imagine that its bowels were turned upside down in 1906.


Relief is pouring into Grenada from CDERA, UNDP, UNICEF, FAO, UNDAC, CIDA, USAID/OFDA, PAHO, IFRC, Trinidad Red Cross, Canadian Red Cross, Martinique Red Cross, but not fast enough. Friends living in England say it made the news the first day and dwindled into a sentence the next. In 1906, coincidentally, US Marines occupied Cuba to put down "revolutionary disorders".


In the past few years Blair and Bush have, unnecessarily and illegally, gone against the UN and bombed Iraq when they should have gone in with their troops to relieve famine and war victims worldwide. They've spent millions bombing-it's time they give back to the forgotten and distraught countries of this world. Now is their chance to occupy Grenada with relief, with supplies, equipment, technicians, building experts who will help dig out hundreds of destroyed poles and restore electricity and water, start the process of rebuilding homes, clear away mountains of rubbish, get solid waste management up and running.


The Grenadians are showing their spunk. See the man whose dull, shocked eyes in front of what turned out to be his house of cards turn resolute. See him circle his house, see him pick up wood and stone, and begin to plan how he will begin from the foundation up.


See the woman shut out the chaos around her, pick up the saucepan from her devastated yard, then a teaspoon, then a baby's bottle. See her salvage what she can. She too will have a home again. It's the strong Caribbean spirit. Grenada will, in coming years, rise with the help of willing hands and generous hearts, lovelier and stronger than before.


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur