• st-vincent-crash

    An image of the damaged minibus reportedly taken at the scene of the crash. (Credit: Facebook/Rochelle E Baptiste)

St Vincent authorities confirm five dead in tragic minibus crash [UPDATED]

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A relative of one of the victims in the crash breaks down in tears (Credit: CMC)

 

KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent, Monday January 12, 2015 –10:39 pm Atlantic Time, CMC:  The St. Vincent and the Grenadines government Monday night reduced the number of fatalities resulting from an accident in which a bus carrying several school children plunged into the sea.

The Ministry of Health said it could verify that five people were killed as a result of the incident in which the minibus plunged into the seas at Rock Gutter, a community between Owia and Fancy in north-eastern St. Vincent Monday morning.

Communications officer in the Ministry of Health, Wellness and the Environment, Neeka Anderson-Isaacs, said that two people are missing and 10 have been hospitalised at the Milton Cato Memorial Hospital (MCMH) while four others are at the hospital in Georgetown.

Earlier tallies, based on police and other government sources, suggested that seven people had been confirmed dead.

The Ministry of Health said that approximately 21 passengers, including 14 students from the North Union and Georgetown Secondary Schools respectively, were in the bus when the incident occurred.

“Fifteen persons were initially seen at the Owia Clinic, where one was confirmed dead.  The driver, who is alive and is himself nursing injuries, reportedly assisted in the rescue efforts,” Anderson-Isaacs said.

The communications officer said that the ministry has activated its mass casualty management plan.

Adjustments were made at MCMH — the nation’s main health care facility — to accommodate the emergency.

“The Accident and Emergency unit was transformed to accommodate injured persons as well as to provide counselling for family members.

Minister of Health Wellness and the Environment Clayton Burgin, Chief Medical Officer Dr. Simone Keizer-Beache, Chief Nursing Officer and Permanent Secretary Luis de Shong were on hand at the hospital assisting medical staff and giving support to family members.

“Additionally the Ministry sent two ambulances from Kingstown with staff nurses and emergency medical supplies to augment the staff deployed from the Georgetown hospital and the mental health facility in Orange Hill to assist in the emergency management process,” Anderson-Isaacs said.

She said the Ministry was still in the process of managing patients being housed at the Georgetown Hospital as well as at the MCMH.

The Chief Medical Officer said that as part of the mass casualty management plan, MCMH is treating the injured, and that the psycho-social emergency team is working as part of that management plan and will continue in the days to come to provide the anticipated support which will be needed.

A grief stricken Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, speaking on national radio, said the “entire nation of St. Vincent and the Grenadines…has been touched by this tragedy of national proportion.

“We all grieve and ask God for guidance and strength as well as we lean on one another,” he said, noting that the recovery of bodies from the sea is ongoing.

“Some of the questions you have are not fully answered, that will come in due time, right now it is the task of making sure that everyone is accounted for. We cannot yet give up hope because there are hope we can find additional survivors as inhospitable as the conditions are, we have to hope…and we have to put the pieces back together and to see what we can do to try to ensure that this…tragedy does not happen again,” Gonsalves said.

“It was a terrible accident and I think everyone’s heart is really heavy because of what has taken place,” he added.

In the wake of the tragedy, Prime Minister Gonsalves has announced a postponement of his budget speech that was scheduled to have been delivered to Parliament on Monday.

“As a consequence of this terrible tragedy, I have consulted with the Leader of the Opposition, the Speaker of the House of Assembly and His Excellency the Governor General and we have all agreed that the Parliament session this afternoon…be postponed until tomorrow the same time,” he added.

2:45 pm Atlantic Time, CMC: At least seven people, mainly students, died after a minibus plunged into the sea in Rockgutter, an area between Owia and Fancy on the northeastern tip of St. Vincent early Monday.

Police and government officials say that five bodies have so far been recovered from the sea, and one person died in hospital. Another person died on the way to the medical institution.

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 (local time). Initial reports said that as many as 20 people, including 14 students from the North Union and Georgetown Secondary Schools respectively.

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 that minibus was packed with students from the two communities further south in this North Windward constituency.

They said that the conductor was standing, suggesting that the minibus was carrying more people than it was licensed to carry, a common practice in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

A large crowd has gathered at the scene where two Coast Guard patrol boats have been searching 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. Health authorities said the body showed signed of trauma, presumable inflicted as it knocked against the large rocks that line the shore.

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 impact.

A grief stricken Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, speaking on national radio, said the “entire nation of St. Vincent and the Grenadines…has been touched by this tragedy of national proportion.

“We all grieve and ask God for guidance and strength as well as we lean on one another,” he said, noting that the recovery of bodies from the sea is ongoing.

“Some of the questions you have are not fully answered, that will come in due time, right now it is the task of making sure that everyone is accounted for. We cannot yet give up hope because there are hope we can find additional survivors as inhospitable as the conditions are, we have to hope…and we have to put the pieces back together and to see what we can do to try to ensure that this…tragedy does not happen again,” Gonsalves said.

“It was a terrible accident and I think everyone’s heart is really heavy because of what has taken place,” he added.

In the wake of the tragedy, Prime Minister Gonsalves has announced a postponement of his budget speech that was scheduled to have been delivered to Parliament on Monday.

“As a consequence of this terrible tragedy, I have consulted with the Leader of the Opposition, the Speaker of the House of Assembly and His Excellency the Governor General and we have all agreed that the Parliament session this afternoon…be postponed until tomorrow the same time,” he added.

1:35 pm Atlantic Time, CMC: Residents across St. Vincent and the Grenadines are in mourning Monday after a bus carrying at least 18 people, including 14 school children, plunged into the sea, killing at least four people.

St Vincent authorities said three students were killed, one other missing and at least 10 others have been injured and taken to hospital.

Police in Owia, a community on the northwestern tip of the island, said that the accident occurred at Rockgutter, a community between Owia and Fancy.

The rough seas were said to be hampering the efforts to retrieve the bodies and crisis centres have been established in Kingstown and the northern part of the country.

A grief stricken Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, speaking on national radio, said the “entire nation of St. Vincent and the Grenadines…has been touched by this tragedy.

“We all grieve and ask God for guidance and strength as well as we lean on one another,” he said, noting that the recovery of bodies from the sea is ongoing.

“Some of the questions you have are not fully answered, that will come in due time, right now it is the task of making sure that everyone is accounted for. We cannot yet give up hope because there are hope we can find additional survivors as inhospitable as the conditions are, we have to hope…and we have to put the pieces back together and to see what we can do to try to ensure that this…tragedy does not happen again,” Gonsalves said.

“It was a terrible accident and I think everyone’s heart is really heavy because of what has taken place,” he added.

12:20 pm Atlantic Time: The Milton Cato Memorial Hospital has temporarily suspended visiting hours due to mass casualty situation.

According to reports from the Searchlight Newspaper’s Facebook page, “a section of the Accident and Emergency Unit has been transformed into a counseling area where some family members are receiving counseling at this time.”

In a release from the Ministry of Health Wellness and the Environment, four persons have been confirmed dead and search and rescue efforts are continuing, but are being hampered by rough seas.

The report from the ministry said that “a van transporting passengers, including school children, overturned and went over an embankment in an area called ‘Rock Gutter’”.

11:32 am Atlantic Time: Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves said that as a result of this morning’s tragedy, today’s Budget has been postponed. Addressing the nation earlier this morning, Gonsalves described the tragedy as “an extremely sad moment”.

According to Gonsalves, “a few students have been recovered in various states of injuries, but there are several others who are not yet recovered.” “We pray for our children and all those who have suffered in this accident – for the parents and all the members of their families” said Gonsalves.

8:30 am Atlantic Time: Search and rescue teams were looking for at least three people reported missing after a minibus carrying several passengers, including students, plunged into the sea in northwestern St. Vincent on Monday. According to the Searchlight Newspaper in St Vincent, the minibus was carrying approximately 16 school children when it overturned and plunged into the ocean between Fancy and Owia. saint-vincent-crash-map Police in Owia, a community on the northwestern tip of the island, said that the accident occurred at Rockgutter, a community between Owia and Fancy.

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(Credit: Facebook / Indira Abbott)

 

According to local journalist Rochelle Baptiste, reports indicate that at least four persons are dead and several are unaccounted for.

Vincentians took to various social media channels including Twitter to express their concern for the safety of the passengers and offer prayers of hope for the families.

An eerily similar accident occurred in St Lucia in November 2011, when a minibus carrying 14 people plunged a cliff into the sea in the south east area of Mount Sion, in Choiseul.

Coast Guard divers are on the scene but rescue and recovery efforts are being hampered by heavy seas.

This is a developing story.

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