Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves has called on citizens to create for the five students who died tragically in Rock Gutter on Monday memorials that time cannot erase.
“Their names must be forever etched in our collectively memory as fitting memorials which no grave or time can ever extinguish,” he said in a national radio address.
Brothers Jamalie and Jamall Edwards of North Union Secondary School (NUSS) and their schoolmate, Anique Alexander, Racquel Ashton of Georgetown Secondary School (GSS), and Glenroy Michael of St. Vincent Grammar School died when a minivan plunged into the sea at Rock Gutter, an area between Fancy and Owia in north-eastern St. Vincent on Monday.
The search at sea continues for two other students, Chanstacia Stay of NUSS, and Simonique Ballantyne of GSS, who are unaccounted and presumed dead as a result of the tragedy.
“We are in special solidarity with the parents of the students who are dead and missing,” Gonsalves said.
Twenty-one persons, 18 of them students, were on the bus when the tragedy occurred.
Eleven students survived the accident. They are: Onique Michael; Christie Bowens; Odesia Stay; Teyahna Bowens; Terril Thomas; Israel Roberts; Ruthann Bowens; Orlando Lewis; and Shemroy Yorke, all NUSS, and Candi-Ann Sterling of GSS.
The three adults who were onboard also survived. They are Ravannan Nanton, the driver; Ehud Myers, the conductor; and, Sherlon Hoyte, a nurse.
All of the passengers boarded the bus in Fancy.
“As a grateful nation, we rejoice that 14 of our fellow citizens survived this horrible tragedy,” Gonsalves said.
He said that 14 persons were hospitalised immediately after the incident, seven of whom have been discharged since.
“Those who have survived, the entire village of Fancy, especially the grieving families, the students and staff of the Georgetown Secondary School, the North Union Secondary School, and the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Grammar School, and the nation as a whole, at home and abroad, are pained and anguished.
“Everywhere in our country, the faces of men women and students are strained and anxious, devastated by our loss, yet thankful to almighty God for his mercies. We look to him as the bountiful source of grace in whom faith, hope and love abundantly and inexhaustible reside.
“We are before our God, imploring him to healing hand to strengthen us, to bind us together with cords that that cannot be broken and to redeem us with his saving grace,” Gonsalves said.
He noted that the nation has been rebuilding after the Christmas Eve floods of 2013 claimed 12 lives and left immense damage and loss.
He said occurrences such as the Rock Gutter tragedy are tests of the nation’s resolve and faith as “seven precious jewels of our present and future have been taken from us inexplicably.
“From this awful tragedy, there is the certainty embedded deeply in our faith and solidarity that we will be restored and made much stronger for a better life and living.”
Gonsalves praised the response of ordinary citizens and officials in the wake of the tragedy.
“This extraordinary tragedy has brought out the best in us. From early, the exemplary communities of Fancy and Owia bonded as one to provide comfort to those in grief and suffering.
“Selflessly and at risk to their own lives in the billowing seas, divers volunteered as part of the search and rescue team spearheaded by the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Coastguard. Promptly and effectively and with love, the agencies of the state responded to the disaster…”
He said that at the appropriate time, state agencies will conduct a critical review of their performances “to assess their strengths and weaknesses, possibilities and limitations — all with the aim of improving upon the delivery of vital public services at times of emergencies and disasters.”
He further noted bipartisanship after the event.
“Members of the government and opposition have in one way or another, at one level or another, been engaged in providing support and solidarity to the grieving parents the community of fancy and the survivors,” and singled out for special mention Montgomery Daniel, MP for North Windward, where the tragedy occurred, who “has been exemplary in his commitment to his people”.
Gonsalves said that the counselling centre at the Seventh Day Adventist church at Fancy will continue its work, and so too will the one at the Milton Cato Memorial Hospital in Kingstown, the nation’s main healthcare facility.
“The healing process will be a difficult and challenging one, requiring the utmost skill care and attention. The police have commenced and are continuing investigation into the accident,” Gonsalves said.
He spoke of the outpouring of love and solidarity from across the region and the world, saying that churches across the region are conducting services and prayer sessions on behalf of the nation.
This coming Sunday, at the church services at West Minster Cathedral in London and at the Vatican in Rome, there will be remembrances for St. Vincent and the Grenadines and the victims of the tragedy, Gonsalves said.
He also noted that the West Indies T20 cricket team in South Africa has offered their solidarity.
“We thank all our friend in the region and globally for their love and kind consideration. It means a lot to us. Above all, we know that whatever the future brings our faith will see us through. We know that this long night of weeping will pass; it will not endure forever. Our promised joy comes in the morning as we bond with our God and each other enduringly.”
On behalf of the government and people of SVG as well as his family and his own behalf, Gonsalves restated his “declaration of profound condolences” to the families of the dead students.
“As a nation, we will be with you always, I want you to know that I will be with you. You are in my heart and in my soul and in my mind. I love you. We will all heal together.
‘As we renew our faith for the difficult, yet promising, journey ahead, the uplifting words from Psalm 33 are apt in their reassurances: ‘Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, The people he chose for his inheritance.
‘…May your unfailing love rest upon us, O Lord, Even as we put our hope in you’,” the prime minister said.