By FRANCIS JOSEPH
THERE is just one word to describe Grenada — battered. One thing is certain — it will take a long time for Grenada to get back on its feet. While the re-building process has not yet started, the main concern of the 100,000 residents of Grenada is where will they get food when it runs out next fortnight. Most of the places have been looted and while assistance is already underway for the island, the affected residents are bawling and crying. Tragedy takes me to Grenada all the time. The murder of Maurice Bishop and others in 1983; the trial and appeal of Bernard Coard and others for those murders; the death of former Prime Minister Sir Eric Gairy in 1991; and just three weeks ago, the Commission of Inquiry into allegations that the Prime Minister Dr Keith Mitchell accepted a US $500,000 bribe from a German national. From the moment news started to filter out that Grenada was battered by Hurricane Ivan last Tuesday, another overseas assignment awaited me. This time, there was no luxury of covering a case in the Privy Council, or a Commission of Inquiry in an air-conditioned room.
This was going to be the toughest of them all in a country with no amenities and no available hotel space — because they were all destroyed. The Defence Force made arrangements for the TT media to travel to Grenada on Wednesday evening. Media personnel were asked to meet at the Port-of-Spain Port for sailing at 6 pm on Wednesday. Journalists were there on time. But there was no boat. Port officials knew nothing of the special sailing but everyone remained there. The damaged TTS Nelson was docked along the jetty. More than two hours later, a 160-foot tug, the MV Scout, pulled into the Port and manned by members of the TT Coast Guard. One officer, who identified himself to the media as Lt Braithwaite, said he was in charge, but had no knowledge that he was going to take members of the media to Grenada. He was certain that he was going to Grenada and that he was taking relief supplies to that island.
He returned two hours later to advise that the Coast Guard was taking the 12 journalists to Grenada... and that alone. What did he mean by that? Braithwaite insisted that he was going to "drop" the journalists off in St George’s and that was the end of the story. At that time, I thought he was joking. He said he was awaiting the arrival of a crane to load the goods. That crane was expected within 45 minutes. Then it would take another hour and a half to load the vessel. That put the departure at midnight. All the journalists remained lying on the ground at the Port until 3 am before someone suggested that we board the vessel. I was hopeful then that we were about to leave. That did not take place until 7.40 am on Thursday. Our journey to St George’s was finally on the way. But to some of my colleagues, it was too much to swallow. Newsday’s chief photographer Rattan Jadoo may have lost the inner walls of his stomach when the vessel passed through the five islands. One Coast Guardsman said, "Maybe we could tie him to the side of the boat."
We sailed into St George’s five hours later. There was the HMS Richmond anchored out to sea. Again, Lt Braithwaite repeated that he was "dropping" us off in Grenada and that was that. The Coast Guard was severing ties with the TT media. Imagine that, arriving in a battered island like Grenada with widespread looting and escaped prisoners running around the place with no electricity. I told my colleagues that I found it very disturbing that our own Coast Guard disowned us in Grenada. That could never happen in the United States, I added. As we disembarked from the vessel, Lt Braithwaite stuck to his word and left us there. But thank God for ASP Frank Philbert of the Royal Grenada Police Force. I approached him and informed him of our task on the island. He left what he was doing and took charge of the Trinidadian journalists. I felt hurt by what our Coast Guard had done. ASP Philbert took the Trini journalists to Police Headquarters which did not escape the battering from Ivan. I was introduced to Commissioner of Police Fitzroy Bedeau, who was dressed in army fatigues.
He made us feel at home. He allowed us to leave our luggage in his office. I told him that I needed to see Prime Minister Dr Keith Mitchell because nobody had seen him since the hurricane struck. He made a phone call and then despatched ASP Philbert with some of the journalists to the Prime Minister’s private residence at Happy Hill. By that time, the photographers had gone their separate ways. The Commissioner later instructed another officer to take the photographers to Point Salines International Airport where PM Patrick Manning was expected. On arrival at Happy Hill, Dr Mitchell looked a very worried man. Having to shake off bribe allegations in recent months, he was now facing an almost total destruction of his country... and his official residence at Mount Royal. Dr Mitchell said the Grenadian economy had been doing well in recent years, but Hurricane Ivan ended that. He estimated losses at US $2 billion, but felt confident that Grenada will rise again.
One thing was sure during a tour of the city... nearly everywhere was destroyed. No water, no electricity and no communication. I seriously wondered what I was doing in that country. There was widespread looting. No place escaped the fury of Hurricane Looters. The police stopped a van on Thursday night and a large quantity of electrical items looted from a St George’s store were seized. Supermarkets, small groceries and shops felt the full weight of looters. PM Mitchell, realising the magnitude of the problem, asked Caricom for help. Soldiers from Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Antigua and St Kitts were flown to Grenada to help restore peace and order on the island. Getting something to eat in St George’s was a big problem. It was a scarce commodity and when you got something, it was very costly. Two hot dogs and a juice — US $20, a small bowl of soup, two slices of bread and a bowl of black beans with a soft drink — US $20. That was it. I had no choice, eat it or stay hungry because curfew was in effect. The hotel industry also suffered a great setback. The hotels in Grand Anse were destroyed. Just one remained operational — Grenada Grand Hotel, owned by Issa Nicholas.
The hotel suffered tremendous damage thereby limiting the services to the guests. A power generator brought power to the hotel, but on a limited basis. The TT journalists sought refuge there. Transportation was a major problem. Very few taxis were working and when one came along, it was considered very expensive. There were long lines for gas and for anything considered vital. Lt Ashook Singh, who heads the TT contingent of soldiers, ensured that the TT journalists were safe. Several TT soldiers conducted a road block at night in front of the Grenada Grand Hotel. Lt Singh and Captain Al Alexander played their part in ensuring that the TT journalists left Grenada safely yesterday aboard a special Tobago Express flight. We left behind a battered country, but according to Dr Mitchell — "We will rise again."
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