Mother of Quarry Vic­tim Speaks Out

The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL - By Kayra Wil­liams Emer­gency Man­age­ment

Imag­ine hear­ing from thou­sands of miles away that your teenaged son was in­volved in a freak ac­ci­dent; more pre­cisely, an ex­plo­sion com­pletely out of left field, while work­ing on site at a lo­cal quarry where he’d been em­ployed for just six months. That was the earth-shat­ter­ing re­al­ity for an un­sus­pect­ing mother. For some time now she had been chas­ing greener pas­tures over­seas. Her kids were with their fa­ther, also a quarry worker. The shock­ing news had sent her pack­ing her suit­case. She took the first flight out to Saint Lu­cia. Noth­ing was more im­por­tant than be­ing at the side of her 18-year-old son, and his fa­ther who, it turned out, had also been se­ri­ously in­jured in the blast.

Flash­back to March 21, 2017, and the late af­ter­noon ex­plo­sion at the quarry op­er­ated by Rayneau Con­struc­tion Lim­ited. Re­ports af­ter the in­ci­dent con­firmed that three men were dead, roughly 20 oth­ers in­jured. Vic­tims were rushed to Vic­to­ria Hos­pi­tal where the full com­ple­ment of doc­tors, nurses, and other sup­port staff re­sponded as best they could to the mass causal­ity sit­u­a­tion, al­beit with the usual lim­ited re­sources. Out­side the hos­pi­tal a crowd gath­ered; dis­traught fam­ily mem­bers wait­ing for up­dates, se­cu­rity per­son­nel and po­lice of­fi­cers do­ing what they could to main­tain or­der, and a sea of the usual mor­bid on­look­ers tak­ing pictures soon to end up on Face­book. A sprin­kling of news-hun­gry me­dia hov­ered around the hos­pi­tal com­pound.

Ac­tu­ally the me­dia re­ported very little in re­la­tion to the ex­plo­sion, for le­gal and other rea­sons. Four of the more se­verely in­jured were flown to Mar­tinique for at­ten­tion not lo­cally avail­able. Al­most noth­ing was heard from the quarry op­er­a­tors. When fi­nally they is­sued a press state­ment it was only to say: “At this stage we give our un­wa­ver­ing sup­port and co­op­er­a­tion to the in­ves­ti­ga­tors as they as­sist and sup­port us in find­ing out the cause of this un­for­tu­nate ac­ci­dent.”

An emer­gency press con­fer­ence fol­lowed on March 22, con­vened by The Na­tional Or­gan­i­sa­tion. On hand to take ques­tions were the Chief Fire Of­fi­cer Joseph Joseph, NEMO Di­rec­tor Velda Joseph, Chief Med­i­cal Of­fi­cer Dr Mer­lene Fred­er­ick, and Act­ing Po­lice Com­mis­sioner Mil­ton De­sir. The Rayneau Group of Com­pa­nies was un­rep­re­sented.

Joseph promised that as soon as rel­e­vant in­for­ma­tion was re­ceived the press would be no­ti­fied. The fire chief also re­lated that the fire ser­vice had not trans­ported any ca­su­al­ties af­ter the in­ci­dent. Upon their ar­rival at the quarry all in­jured par­ties were al­ready on their way to hos­pi­tal, save for the bod­ies of two men with no vi­tal signs. In­ves­ti­ga­tions were con­tin­u­ing, said Joseph, in the face of spec­u­la­tions about the cause of the ex­plo­sion, into the stor­age of po­ten­tially haz­ardous ma­te­ri­als at the site. In the days ahead there would be all kinds of ques­tions from call­ers to ra­dio and TV shows about poor safety stan­dards that may have con­trib­uted to the tragedy.

One by one, the fa­tal­i­ties were laid to rest. One of them, Si­mon Straughn, was re­port­edly the half brother of the quarry owner. His fu­neral ser­vice at the Cas­tries Cathe­dral on April 3, 2017 was at­tended by a large con­tin­gent of staff, some wear­ing spe­cially de­signed “Team Rayneau” jer­seys. Straughn had lost his fa­ther when he was only 12, and had been forced to grow up quickly. In the words of Adrian Hy­acinth who de­liv­ered the eu­logy: “For Si­mon there was no limit, no task too much. Si­mon was a truly loyal em­ployee who knew the im­por­tance of hard work.” He lost his mother when he was 20, mar­ried in 2007. He left be­hind a wife and two chil­dren.

On April 16 an­other vic­tim of the ex­plo­sion suc­cumbed to his in­juries, bring­ing the death toll to four. Jude Skelly, a Den­nery res­i­dent in his 40s, had been trans­ported to Mar­tinique for treat­ment and, ac­cord­ing to fam­ily, passed away af­ter be­ing in a coma for weeks.

“There’s so much go­ing on,” the dis­traught mother of an 18-year-old sur­vivor told the She had called out of frus­tra­tion. Prom­ises of as­sis­tance by the com­pany had failed to ma­te­ri­al­ize.

“My chil­dren’s fa­ther and my son were work­ing there on the day of the in­ci­dent,” she said. “My chil­dren’s fa­ther had been work­ing there for 21 years, and my son had just started work­ing there about six months when the in­ci­dent hap­pened. I sent him to the of­fice this week and he said a young lady at the of­fice told him they were only go­ing to pay his doc­tor’s bill, they weren’t go­ing to pay him a salary. He has two holes in his eardrums! He needs to keep check­ing up with the doc­tor. I have been pay­ing his bills.

“A guy just died in Mar­tinique . . . I think they should at least ap­point some­body to deal this case. Hire some­body to keep check on the vic­tims and their fam­i­lies. See how they’re do­ing, see how they’re re­cov­er­ing . . . these peo­ple get in­jured on the job whether through care­less­ness and negligence, and then come to find out when they try to get a salary, maybe to get their med­i­ca­tion . . . Peo­ple can be so heart­less. They have no idea what peo­ple like me are go­ing through.”

A com­pany rep­re­sen­ta­tive said there had been com­mu­ni­ca­tion with the af­fected fam­i­lies. Mean­while, as they say, “in­ves­ti­ga­tions into the in­ci­dent are on­go­ing.”

In­ves­ti­ga­tions con­tinue into the blast at a lo­cal quarry that left four work­ers dead and sev­eral oth­ers in­jured. The scene out­side the fu­neral of one of the ex­plo­sion vic­tims, Si­mon Straughn.

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