When Hurricane Ivan passed over the small Caribbean island of Grenada on the 7th of September 2004, between the hours of 2:00pm and 7:00pm, its torrential rains and 135mph winds left unprecedented devastation in their wake.
As luck would have it, the eye of the storm passed close to the southern tip of the island, which is the most densely populated area and which includes the capital, St. George’s.
In those five hours, 89% of the country’s housing stock was damaged, most hospitals and schools were wrecked, telephone lines downed, running water supplies cut off, 18,000 people were left homeless, 700 were injured and 39 died. The cost of the damage amounted to US$1.1 billion, which is more than twice the country’s annual GDP. In St. George’s, every major public building was either severely damaged or destroyed.
Among the public buildings most severely damaged was St. George’s 17th-century Richmond Hill Prison, which sits atop a picturesque, 550-feet hill, directly above the Prime Minister’s Office, which is half-way down the hillside.
When the prison’s roof blew off, all the prisoners escaped and many of them ran directly downhill to the Prime Minister’s Office – an event which, to this day, provides the stoic Grenadians with an endless supply of jokes, most of them to do with the quality of the occupants of the lower building.
The brunt of the gale-force winds was borne by the three tallest building in St. George’s – its churches: St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, St. George’s Anglican Church and the Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. As they are all located in the highest part of the city, on top of a hill overlooking the port, all three were destroyed.
When I visited Grenada recently, only the Catholic cathedral had been rebuilt. As 64% of Grenada’s population of 100,000 people are Catholic, I surmise that the cathedral has found it easier to raise the funds necessary to rebuild, by comparison with the Anglican (22%) and Presbyterian (less than 1%) churches.
Locals told me that reconstruction work on St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church started about five years ago but has since stalled due to lack of funding. All that is left of the church now is a single end-wall and clock tower (lead image), the clock’s hands stopped at 3:50pm, a little under two hours into the hurricane’s onslaught.
At St. George’s Anglican Church (all other images), the four walls remain standing but the roof is gone and the building’s stained glass windows have been blown out.
Inside, a baptismal font (second and fourth images) stands next to the wrecked wooden staircase which parishioners used to climb to the reach upstairs gallery, long since disappeared. A few wooden pews remain in place but all are damaged and strewn with construction materials.
In the grounds, by the church’s iron railing, a sign appeals for donations to the church’s reconstruction fund. The amount sought is a modest $2.0 million Eastern Caribbean Dollars (about US$735,000). This struck me as being not a very high price to pay to rebuild the hopes of the island’s Anglican parishioners.
While I am not a religious person, I found there to be a poignant sense of loss in these two destroyed sacred buildings. Eleven years after their destruction, there remains little prospect of their being rebuilt.
I stood there and wondered how Grenada’s Anglican and Presbyterian faithful squared it with themselves that the God in whom they believe had seen to destroy the magnificent monuments they had built to honour him and that, as yet, he doesn’t seem to have intervened to help them rebuild.
(click on an image to enlarge it)