Fire victim says he lost everything . . . even his plastic dentures, top and bottom!
While most Saint Lucians were preparing on Monday to usher in the New Year, an all too commonplace disaster struck residents in the community of Rose Hill, Castries. Initial reports suggest the fire started in a house shortly after midnight while the occupant was still at work, and quickly spread. Before long the flames had engulfed six other homes, mere feet from each other. Scores of well-meaning citizens joined the fire service crew in their efforts to bring the fire under control. Alas, without success. It finally burned itself out at great expense to several families, most of them already in dire straits.
Sixty-five-year-old Omer St. Rose has lived in Rose Hill for thirty years. His family owned three of the seven houses quickly brought down by the voracious flames. He shared a two-storey house with his sister and brotherin-law; his nephew occupied another. The third had been only recently refurbished, soon to be advertised for rent.
On Tuesday afternoon, a still visibly shaken St. Rose recounted his experience. He had been watching television for most of the evening and decided around 11.30 to turn in for the night. He woke up with a start, to banging noises from the floor above him; his relatives were trying to alert him to the danger.
"I got up and I saw a big light," said St. Rose. "Then I opened my front door and realized the house closest to mine was on fire. I had no choice but to get out as fast as I could. There was no time to save anything. I could not get back inside.”
A self-employed artist, St. Omer said everything he owned was swallowed up by the fire in a matter of minutes. Close to tears, he explained: "The fire took all my tools, all my clothes, everything—even my dentures, both up and down. All of that burn. All I saved were the clothes I had on: a tee shirt and boxers. Someone gave me some short pants to put on." By his accounting, he lost $40,000 in a matter of minutes.
St. Rose claims that in times past his family had warned the owners of other structures to break them down. "My brother used to always tell them, ‘Those old houses y'all have there, y'all should come and put them down.' If one of them wasn't there my house wouldn't burn; my mother's house wouldn't burn."
He said his sister and her husband were forced to sleep at his brother's house in Carellie, Castries and will stay there until they decide their next move. All efforts to contact other victims proved futile.
St. Rose's daughter, Tassa Jean, visited the community from Piaye after receiving the heart-wrenching call from a relative. She is hopeful that if and when the houses are rebuilt, greater care will be taken. "I don't think they should build in the same manner as before,” she said. “I know everybody's looking for their own little space, and for that reason they may not agree with me, but then there are lessons to be learned from the fire."
She added: "Everything is replaceable. I'm just happy there was no loss of life and that is what we need to be grateful for. I'm very thankful that everyone was able to leave this place physically unharmed."
LUCELEC workers were at the scene on Tuesday to cut off damaged electricity lines, and ensure it was safe to restore the power supply to other houses in the area. Also on hand was Pastor Richard Spencer of the Church of the Nazarene, located in the nearby community of Entrepot. He said that following their Old Year's Night church service, members saw the flames and although none of the affected persons were associated with his church, members nevertheless stood ready to provide support. "I'm here to do an assessment and then go back to my board and see how we can respond as a church to this tragedy that has struck this community," said Pastor Spencer. The support he had in mind included the provision of meals, goods, financial assistance, counselling services, and repair teams.
The prime minister's Senior Communications officer Nicole McDonald on Thursday said that the government stands ready to assist the families as much as possible, and that the Department of Social Services has begun assessing the situation. McDonald says that the absence of a distress fund does not mean in any way that government will not assist Saint Lucians in emergency situations.
Deputy Fire Chief George Victorin said on Thursday that investigations are ongoing into the cause of the fire and it may be “two to three weeks” before anything useful is known!
A fire shortly after the New Year fireworks early Tuesday, all but wiped out the community of Rose Hill in Castries. Police are investigating the cause.