UPDATE: Health Ministry ‘can verify’ 5 deaths in minivan incident
The Ministry of Health said late Monday afternoon that it can verify that five persons are dead as a result of the incident in which a minibus plunged into the seas at Rock Gutter , a community between Owia and Fancy in north-eastern St. Vincent Monday morning.
Earlier tallies, based on police and other government sources, suggested that seven persons had been confirmed dead. (Read full update)
Original story below:
At least 7 dead as vehicle plunges into the sea in St. Vincent
By Kenton X. Chance
At least seven persons, mainly students, died after a minibus plunged into the sea in Rock Gutter, an area between Owia and Fancy on the northeastern tip of St. Vincent Monday morning.
Police and government officials say that five bodies were recovered from the sea, and one person died in hospital, and another died on the way to hospital.
Police are still trying to verify how many persons were in the minibus when it plunged into the sea sometime between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m.
One police source has said that officials were told that the minibus, which is licensed to carry 18 passengers, was “full” when it left Fancy, the northernmost community in St. Vincent.
Residents say the minibus was packed with students on their way to secondary schools in North Union and Georgetown — two communities further south in this North Windward constituency.
They say that the conductor was standing, a suggestion that the minibus was carrying more persons that it is licensed to, a common practice in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
A large crowd has gathered at the scene where two Coastguard patrol boats were looking for bodies or survivors.
The efforts are being affected by especially large waves characteristic of the Atlantic side of St. Vincent, where the terrain is an alternation of steep inclines and deep gorges and winding roads.
Among the bodies recovered from the water is that of a female student dressed in her school skirt.
Her body showed signed of trauma, presumably inflicted as it knocked against the large rocks that line the shore.
Civilians standing on the rock pulled the body from the water about an hour after onlookers initially spotted it bobbing about in the foamy water.
It is not yet clear what caused the incident, but police say that villagers were notified by persons who jumped out of the vehicle before it went into the sea.
Villagers say that a boy who I believed to have suffered broken legs was swimming in the water and was taken to hospital.
In the wake of the tragedy, Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves has announced a postponement of his Budget Speech, which was scheduled for Monday afternoon.
The speech will now be made Tuesday afternoon.
Gonsalves, Leader of the Opposition Arhnim Eustace, and other Members of Parliament, including Minister of Transport, Sen. Julian Francis were among government officials who have visited the scene.
Government vehicles transported to the site the staff of at least two of the schools whose students were involved in the tragedy.