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Historical Notes

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HISTORICAL NOTES FOR MAY 9

The 1898 Hurricane – “The Island Devastated – Appalling Loss of Life and Property – Three Hundred Perished- Three Fourth of the Population Homeless” (The Sentry, September 23, 1898)

“On Sunday morning the 11th instant the most terrible hurricane that has perhaps ever occurred in the West Indies wrought full destruction on the island of St.Vincent and reduced the colony to an almost indescribable state of pauperism. The hurricane lasted six hours with an interval of fifty five minutes during which the barometer remained steady at 28.509,{{more}} keeping the awe stricken population in a suspense as frightful as the fury of the storm and whilst the trembling bewildered populace who had escaped death or serious injury during the first attack of the angry winds wandered to and fro seeking what they deemed the safest shelter, the seas arose still more dreadfully and the storm-clouds burst with a vehemence that gave to each individual one common thought; that this was the last of St.Vincent and its 40,000 inhabitants. The hurricane is passed, but today, 12 days after it occurred, the affrighted people have not yet recovered from the shock of the dreadful catastrophe and the colony is stunned from the terrible blow.

Since that dreadful day that will never fade in the history of this island, there has been a suspension in trade in anything else but what contributes to the relief of the 30,000 of sick and destitute, that are like helpless children depending on the Government for food, clothing and shelter. The deaths recorded are 205, but as this does not include all those from inland villages, the missing or crews from ships lost, the estimated loss of life to the present is 300. The mortality is being daily augmented, the old, some of the wounded, and infants dying from the late exposure and suffering.
 
The government are doing all that can possibly be done for the relief of distress and buffering. As early as the 13th food was sent to the country districts…Besides the relief in food all willing to work were employed in cleaning streets and roads of the giant trees (some near a century old) which blocked them. This work as well as relief to those who are unable to earn wages still continues. But while the officials and their assistants have risen to the occasion and ventured their lives and health by overtaxing their strength, yet we regret to say there was in several districts especially in village towns, not only an unthankfulness, but a selfish eagerness to get all that each could, and even demanding payment for most trivial services connected with their relief, grumbling like children at a school feast, if some got a little more than they did, taking all gifts as their right…

In marked contrast, however, to the selfish behaviour of many in the neighbouring village towns was the good conduct of the people of Cumberland Valley. On Saturday afternoon, 17th, it was represented to the Administrator that the distress in the Cumberland Valley needed someone on the spot and a centre being formed there. At once lumber and stores were placed in a lighter and Mr. Owen Lewis of the Government staff readily agreed to go down with them. He arrived in Cumberland early on Sunday morning, the people in the heights of Coulls village and in the Valley seeing the boat rushed to the bay, took up the lumber and stores and worked so heartily that by afternoon the upturned arrowroot drying house had been covered with galvanised iron and made into a storeroom… Mention must also be made of the good conduct of Rhymas John of the Police Force.
 
During the whole week he had been employed in giving relief in Barrouallie. He did all he could under the blazing sun which last weekend seemed as cruel as the hurricane. On Saturday night, 17th he was seen sharing to some the provision he had been able to obtain and a few drops of rum out of a half-bottle to many around, refusing to take anything for himself. It is probable that in the hurry and confusion of the time he did not take care to obtain as much food as a prudent man should, for on Sunday morning at 4’o’clock he was seized with a fit, the doctor and rector were with him a few minutes, but nothing could be done and in about half-an-hour all was over.. His body was brought to Kingstown and every honour was paid his remains. The funeral was a public one and all united in their respect to a life so nobly ended…”

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