by Terry Noel
The recent tragic accident in St Vincent and the Grenadines where five students perished and others are still missing in the choppy waters of Kamacrou should not only be a concern for the people of St Vincent and the Grenadians, but should also be of serious concern and a wakeup call to Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martnique — since the topography of our islands is similar in nature. First and foremost, I express my sincere condolences to the nation of St Vincent and the Grenadines, as the nation grieves over the untimely death of several young aspiring people, due to the recent accident which involved a minibus losing control and plunging into the sea. I also express my deepest sympathy to the grieving families of the deceased. One could only imagine the pain and horror these families have to endure in the aftermath of this tragedy.
This tragic event should serve as a wake-up call to the government and people of Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique, since most of the Windward Islands are very similar in nature due to their topography and road networks. It is well-known that most of the islands that make up the Windward islands chain are volcanic in nature, and consist of large mountains and valleys, hence the reason our road networks are difficult to construct. In fact, during that same week we almost suffered the same fate at the government house roundabout in St George, where a metal rail prevented a minibus with passengers, from dropping off the road, where many suffered injuries; but that is the city where guard rails are constructed to some extent. Had it not been for the metal guard rails, Grenada would have been in mourning.
In fact, for many years I have been very much concerned with our roads in Grenada, and in particular our roads in the hilly mountainous areas where travellers frequent. Over the years very little was done to improve the structure of the roads in the rural mountainous areas. In contrast, in some Caribbean countries where there are small slopes on the edge of the road, guard rails are constructed as a precautionary measure against vehicles sliding off the road which can cause serious loss of life and tragedy. However, in Grenada very little was done to prevent or protect vehicles from sliding over cliffs over the years and we have to be grateful to God that such accidents are minimal, despite some occurrences on the Western side of the island. Some of the routes in question are the Grand Etang Road and the Western Road, where about 90% of our commuters from St Patrick and St Andrew travel on a daily basis to and from the City. Furthermore, Grand Etang is also considered a tourist site, where tourist frequently visit the Grand Etang rain forest and the famous Grand Etang Lake.
Despite all these activities in the Grand Etang area and the congestion on the road there during the tourist season where tour operators frequent the area with tourists, very little attention is given to enhancing certain safety measures such as construction of metal guard rails and widening certain areas of the road, which will not only benefit our citizens, but will also be of significant benefit to the tourism industry, and could even attract instead of deter investors from investing. In fact, the situation is so dangerous that the drop off a cliff could be over 100 ft deep in some areas. Worse yet, some of the dangerous areas are smaller in width only allowing one vehicle at a time to pass. Depending on the size of the vehicle, it may be even more difficult to squeeze through, creating an even greater risk for accidents. All it takes is for one bus to drop off a cliff with tourists which will create international news. The publicity alone on the international news networks can put a serious dent in and may even cripple our tourism industry.
Moreover, another road hazard is the boulders and trees hanging overhead passing vehicles where they can easily fall on vehicles as happened before in the Coton Melee disaster in St John, 16 January 1991. In fact, fittingly, we should reflect on this disaster since it is now 24 years since the traumatic event. Many lost their lives, including school-children who were on their way to school, when a huge boulder dropped on a minibus, crushing it, and killing everyone onboard. Since then, have we as a nation seriously address these important issues? In fact, past and present governments have never seriously dealt with eradicating these high risks. In fact, it is the duty of an elected government to take care of its citizenry and its visitors but instead they turn a blind eye to these pertinent issues. So in one sense, we are more reactive rather than proactive when we are aware of the potential dangers. Interestingly, in St Vincent and the Grenadines politicians can be seen sympathising with the affected when they fail to do their necessary work knowing full well that the area was prone to disaster. There is so much to be done.