This past Monday marked 44 years since the great earthquake shook Antigua and Barbuda. It was on the 8th of October 1974, in the predawn hours, that our fair island shimmied and trembled for what seemed like an eternity. When it was all over, most of the stone and concrete structures in Antigua and Barbuda were damaged, some quite severely. For those of us who were around at the time, the sight of the badly-damaged twin towers of the St. John’s cathedral perched precariously on their base (there was a very real fear that they could topple over, especially in one of the many aftershocks that shook our island) was one that is forever seared in our memories. So too the damage to the High Court on Long Street (now the national museum of Antigua and Barbuda), and the Ebenezer Methodist Church on St. Mary’s Street. Indeed, those three venerable edifices were rendered uninhabitable. So too, the Deep Water Harbour which apparently buckled and folded like an accordion that dreadful morning. Not to mention the All Saint’s Anglican Church that was reduced to rubble.
Yes, not one stone of that historic church, on the site of the current building, was left standing upon the other. Mercifully, notwithstanding the enormity of the destruction, there was no loss of life, and Antiguans and Barbudans made their way to church services (in the fields and grounds around Antigua, because almost every single church was damaged and unfit for occupation) to thank the Almighty for his kindness and forbearance.
As is so often the case in times of distress and fear, the rumour mill went into overdrive, and as Antiguans and Barbudans trekked around the island to survey the sobering scenes of destruction, there were whisperings that the dormant volcano upon which the cathedral stands could come to life, with the persistent seismic activity. Of course, it was at the port that the imagination ran wild, and many folks spoke in hushed tones of the Deep Water Harbour sinking into the ocean, much like Port Royal in Jamaica in that great quake of June 7, 1692. Port Royal was at the height of its fame and wealth and was dubbed “the wickedest city on earth,” and prophets of end-time doom here in Antigua and Barbuda were quick to draw the parallels between Port Royal and St. John’s – that “God vex with Antigua,” and “God is punishing Antigua for its wickedness,” and “God is coming for his world!” Fortunately, God did not utter his voice and melt the earth.
Neither “Were the mountains removed and cast into the midst of the sea!” And of course, we remain eternally grateful.
Having said that, we here at Observer media cannot help but reach across the seas to our brothers and sisters in Haiti who experienced another earthquake (5.9 on the Richter scale) this past Saturday 6th, two days before the anniversary of our aforementioned quake. Based on the latest reports, at least 17 souls have perished and 300 people have suffered injuries. The people of Haiti, who can’t seem to get a break, are certainly in our thoughts and prayers. So too the people of Sulawesi, Indonesia where over 2,000 souls were lost and over 5,000 people are missing. The 7.5 magnitude quake followed by a tsunami on September 28th, has visited much death and destruction on that island. Meanwhile, as if that were not enough, Mount Soputan erupted this past Wednesday in (sigh) Sulawesi, killing at least 1,400 people. We mourn with them.
And yes, even as we lift our voices in thanks for the good Lord’s providential care and keeping here in Antigua and Barbuda, Observer media suggests that we do something tangible (monetary donation, food and clothing) as a nation, for our Haitian kin. They have seen more than their fair share of suffering, and it is the least that we can do. The words of John Donne somehow seem quite appropriate for these troubled times in our troubled lands, “No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea [we are] all the less . . . Any man’s death diminishes [us], because [we] are involved in mankind . . .”