Thinking beyond punishment
October 26, 2018
30th Sunday of OT (B)
October 28, 2018

A nation suffers…a nation helps

By Lara Pickford-Gordon,

The natural disaster came after more than 250.2 mm of rainfall on October 17–19, a heavier than normal amount— the long-term average for October (1981–2010) was 206.9 mm. The crisis however prompted an outpouring of generosity and displays of heroism as citizens rallied to help.

The Caroni, Toco and Ortoire rivers overflowed, and the rains continued over the weekend of October 20–21. Material possessions accumulated over years washed away but there were thanks to God for life.

“In the blink of an eyelid everything goes; sometimes you have to sit and reflect,” said Ivy Williams, retired school supervisor, Vicariate Manager Eastern II, Catholic Education Board of Management (CEBM). Williams and her son spent the night of Friday, October 19 into Saturday evening waiting to be rescued from her Kelly Gardens, Kelly Village home.

She said flooding happens whenever the Guayama River, Caparo and Caroni rivers overflowed. At about 12.30 a.m. the housing development was invaded by rough water.

In the darkness, Williams remained calm as water flowed through windows. She said there was nothing she could do with the water looking like the “sea” reaching to the top of her gate. There was no place to sleep or sit. Williams and her 25-year-old son had to keep moving to “get out of the way of moving furniture, the fridge”.

Eventually, they climbed to the top bunk of a double-decker bed, sharing space with the television and computer. Neighbours shouted through windows to communicate with each other. Williams said later in the day they came down. She tried to telephone for help.

At around 6 p.m. two boats manned by volunteers which were tied together were passing through the murky waters; Williams and her son got into one. She was barefooted, wearing only a nightgown covered by a shirt.

They got off at the Caroni South Bank Road where they approached two men for help to get to Mausica. At 9 p.m. a young man in a pickup truck transported them to the Civilian Conservation Corps, Mausica.  From there, her daughter met them and took them to her home in Port of Spain. Williams got clothes to wear and a pair of slippers. She was then taken to her sister’s home in St Ann’s.

Remained calm

She told the Catholic News she remained calm because crying and breaking down was not going to solve the problem. Her mindset was “keep praying and things will work out”.

Williams has been returning to her home to clean. Mold was forming in her house and there was a strong stench in the area. Her car was submerged in water so she is reliant on her daughter and other family to shuttle back and forth.

While mattresses were distributed in her community, none has reached her street but she is thankful for help from the Church, CEBM board, friends and the friends of her children. “I am not alone in all this,” she said.

The adversity has brought out “two sides”: the people who are trying to see what they can get and others genuinely helping each other. Williams is taking one day at a time, understanding that recovery will be a long process and hard work.

The  experience was, for her, a time to stop and reflect. She said people can have work, a house, and cars but disasters like the flood bring the realisation that these are not as important as spirituality and ultimately, people need each other. Williams said, “We pray so I am not fussing too much. I will survive. Things are not the same but I will get back and go again”.

Quintin Gray of Mafeking Village was working offshore when he heard about the flooding. He wanted to get home despite reports of flooding in Piarco and grounding of helicopter flights.

“I was on the job but my mind not there because my family here and water in the house”, Gray related to Archbishop Jason Gordon who was touring flooded areas on Tuesday. Concerned about family and water in the house, he began to pray, “‘Father God I say I have to reach home’. Next day they say it have one flight”.

His colleagues wanted to know how he was getting home with the flood but he was confident he would find a way.

Water high

Upon arrival, he telephoned his sister in Arima telling her he had to reach Manzanilla as far as the resort, where he was sure to get a ride. She is a member of Lions and was preparing a meal for flood victims. Gray then called his son’s godfather for help. He was transported as far as the car could reach in Manzanilla.

He stopped a passing vehicle and asked for help from a female driver who was going to a ‘lime’. Gray recounted, “I say ‘where you living? You ain’t hear about flood and thing in Mayaro?’. She said, ‘I don’t know but we going’.”

Gray offered to direct her through the flood but they reached a point where she could not go further. He asked the driver to get the attention of a van in front by honking her horn. It turned out the driver knew Gray and was going to Mayaro.

While en route he telephoned Fr Simon Peter Ango for help. Gray said, “And that is how I reach home…and the water high. I say it have a God and me ain’t suffer to reach home.”

Bradley Jagroop, assistant secretary at the parish office, St Francis of Assisi church, Brierley Street, Sangre Grande told the Catholic News last Monday the flooding was devastating for persons in Sangre Grande who reported never experiencing it so badly, but he said some were still able to smile.

“People are happy to be alive and their children to be alive. They say material things can be replaced. It was good to see the faith people had.”

Pews in St Francis RC were under water and the church had to cancel the 7 p.m. Saturday, and 7 a.m. Sunday Masses. Parishioners and ‘outsiders’ were soon out helping to clean.

Jagroop said the flood was 18 inches high and cupboards in the church had to be thrown out; the sound system was destroyed. The presbytery was the most impacted area. The church was turned into a command centre to accept donations for families in the parish. “It was really good to see the unity in the country in these trying times,” Jagroop said.

Archbishop visits flooded areas

Archbishop Jason Gordon prepared a video in which he called for neighbourliness and to “reach out and connect” to persons in the areas affected as well as those distant friends or absent co-workers.

He said times of crisis can be an opportunity for new beginnings, deeper reflection and moving in new directions. “Let us share what we have; not just give the money or the time, let’s give ourselves to other people.”

The Archbishop visited Kelly Village last Monday and the following day Sangre Grande, Vega de Oropouche, Mayaro and La Horquetta last Wednesday. In Sangre Grande, he spoke briefly to councillors of the Sangre Grande Regional Corporation, Ramdass Street, saying the times were “tough” and “challenging” but God was present.

“In the midst of it we have to dig deep and find resources to love especially when people are traumatised and finding it difficult to hold the normal courtesies, the normal ways of relating. Let us ask God’s blessing; let us pray and ask God’s grace through this difficult time so we can be of service to everyone who is in need in this country.”

In an interview with media at the North Oropouche RC, Archbishop Gordon said the question to be asked is, “How do we care for each other and the environment to build a sustainable Trinidad and Tobago?”. Responding to a question, he said after the assessment of damage phase, there will be planning and an “appropriate response”. One of the “first things” was for children to return to the schools which had to be closed.

Lay ecclesial ministries as well as Catholic organisations, parishes and schools have been on the forefront collecting supplies and assisting persons in need.