Birds preened and chirped in flamboyant and loblolly trees. They wanted to be the early ones to catch the juicy worms. Morning was gilding the sky, and its colours were rapidly changing from black to grey to purple to blue. It was a regular ‘foreday marnin,’ just like any other. Hucksters were already strolling the streets with the night’s catch yelling “Get yuh fish!” and security guards, mini-bus drivers, hotel and other service-industry workers were well on their way to another day of toil.
Of course, even as these good folk wended their way to work, the equally good folk from the Central Board of Health, the night crew, so to speak, were winding their way to the city depository in the village of York’s to unload the last of their precious, pungent cargo. As always, it garnished the roadways of our fair State. But nary-a-soul was going to pay any attention to this ‘night-soil’ spillage today, because October 8, 1974 was going to be a day unlike any other day in living memory.
It began as a low rumble in the distance, much like fading, distant thunder. And a slight trembling. Those folks who were still asleep probably thought that they were dreaming. But when dogs began to howl like wolves and run around the houses in abject terror, we knew that this was no dream. The self-same birds that, heretofore, were blithely snapping up worms and serenading the city, were now flapping their wings and screeching in bewilderment. The slight trembling increased to a violent shaking, the cabinets with the ‘good china’ fell flat, as did books, beds and just about everything that was standing. Bricks and stones went flying from homes, many of which shifted from their pedestals and foundations. This was the apocalypse, the end of the world. Many folks became incontinent. Everybody quickly confessed their sins and begged for pardon. This writer certainly did.
Suddenly, the rumbling and shaking ceased. The dogs still howled as though they were seeing ‘jumbie.’ Fowl still crowed and cackled like animals possessed. But what a relief! We all jumped up and ran outside. “It’s an earthquake! It’s an earthquake!” The cry went up — Antigua had suffered a massive earthquake, and we were lucky to be alive. Indeed, notwithstanding the fact that this was a magnitude 7.5 on the Richter scale, not one soul was lost that day. Family, friends and neighbours checked on each other and the news was good all around — God had covered us.
The news that was not so good, however, were the reports of the collateral damage. It was extensive – of Biblical proportions. The towers of the venerable St. John’s Cathedral shifted from their bases and appeared ready to topple over. Thousands flocked to Newgate Street to gape at the spectacle. Scores of graves in the self-same churchyard opened up, twisted and uprooted from their places of rest. The Ebenezer Methodist Church on St. Mary’s Street was also severely damaged. So too, was the High Court on Church Street. The building that housed the Public Library and Treasury at the bottom of High Street was so badly damaged that it had to be abandoned.
The West Indies Oil Company had to be shut down because of broken pipes. Oil was leaking everywhere. The Roman Catholic Cathedral on Independence Avenue and the Anglican churches at St. Philips, Falmouth, Liberta, Glanvilles and All Saints were so severely damaged that many had to be abandoned. Indeed, just about all the churches, all the stone and concrete structures, many of the sugar mills and estate towers, the public market, Halcyon hotel et al were so broken and cracked, that they were deemed structurally unsound.
Then there was the Deep Water Harbour – a twisted, mangled wreck. In fact, huge fissures and crevices opened up along the length of the Deep Water Harbour, rendering it unsafe for further use. One could actually see the angry waves between its cracks. The road leading from Point to the harbour was also so badly broken that it was risky for cars to drive through. Naturally, the word went up that “Deep Water Harbour and Rat Islan’ ah-go sink, jus lacka Port Royal!”
Not surprisingly, that was the big fear in the aftermath of the main quake – that this was just a prelude to “the big one.” And the rumour mills ran rampant.
“The volcano under Big Chuch ah go erup!”
“Antigua nearga too blasted wicked! Cuss ‘pon Antigua!”
The Rastafarians claimed, “Babylon is falling! Fire bun! Jah, Rastafari!”
‘Bird People’ suggested that “PLM too wickit! Righteousness exalteth a nation and PLM ah do too much badniss!”
And of course, ‘Walters People’ demurred, “Bird and dem a wuk too much obeah. Dem want the nation foo be in bad shape so dat dem can win inna ’76. Too much obeah!”
“Boggy Peak ah-go crash!”
“Meh hear dat wan tsunami ah-come.”
“Yuh no-hear Devil’s Bridge bruk dung?”
“Is plate tecktonicks. De North American plate a rub ‘gainst de Caribbean plate. Dat a wha dem-ah say ‘pon de radio. But a wha mek dem fool so? Dem nuh see dat Gawd a come for He worl’?”
“Gyal, yuh right. Antigua nearga need foo go-ah church!”
And that’s what nearly everybody did. Every single house of worship that was not hazardous was filled to overflowing on the Sunday following the quake. Of course, the Cathedral was so unsafe that services were held in the Anglican schoolroom. The All Saints parishioners held services in their parish hall. Not one stone had been left standing upon the other at their church. The Ebenezer Methodists worshipped in their church hall, while other denominations held services in the few unaffected school auditoriums and under hastily erected tents. Rastafarians, sceptics, agnostics, backsliders, ‘testiliers’, scribes, Pharisees, hypocrites, prophets, priests and kings. – ‘tout moun,’ they were all there. In a house of worship. Being kinder and gentler to each other and, of course, thanking God for His grace and goodness. That was 46 years ago on this date, and since then, we have not had another temblor as destructive as that one. Mercifully.
But there’s another earthquake in the offing. It is a political earthquake that will shatter the status quo. We’ve been feeling the rumblings, and we believe that there will be a seismic shift. Antigua and Barbuda is in travail, and there are increasing noises of protest and discontent. Even within the ruling apparatus, there is fratricide, with comrade railing against comrade. They are spilling their guts and pointing fingers and stabbing each other in the back, and every which where. It is not a pretty picture! Indeed, it is downright unseemly! In the staid halls of Parliament, the discourse has fallen to a new low, and our nation’s greatest deliberative body is making ‘everybody shame.’ Seems, King Zacari was onto something when he wondered out loud, “How so much ras’ hold in Parliament.” Sigh!
The ensuing tsunami will wash away the detritus and usher in a new political era here in our fair State. It will be an unforgettable date in history – the date when we reclaimed our twin islands; the date when Barbudans are again treated with respect; the date when decency, accountability, transparency and good governance return to our blessed shores. Oh, haste that day!
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