Sat | Mar 24, 2018

Egerton Chang | It’s complicated, and last extremities of mental agony

Published:Sunday | September 25, 2016 | 12:00 AM
AP Boxing promoter Don King listens as Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks to the Pastors Leadership Conference at New Spirit Revival Center on September 21 in Cleveland, Ohio.

The race for US president has been getting closer and more complicated.

With the 'pivoting' of Donald Trump and the pneumonia-induced 'faint' and 'deplorables' comment of Hillary Clinton, the polls have become much closer.

Mark you, Trump hasn't really pivoted. All he has done is minimise his inflammatory tweets/comments without walking/taking back past provocative and incendiary statements.

For instance, his racist 'birther' issue saying that Barack Obama wasn't born in the US and consequently is an illegitimate president, or at best, an asterisked one, has just been walked back by Trump in a one-liner. This has not convinced his supporters, 40 per cent or whom still believes Obama is not an American. A substantial percentage of them also believes he is a Muslim.

Unfortunately, Clinton's recent 'overheating' episode plays into the untrustworthy meme she has been tagged with for the greater part of her campaign.

The truth is, Trump has been given such a pass by the 'lying' press that his medical records, his Trump Foundation, his Trump University and his political pay for play a la Florida's attorney general, Pam Bondi, have not been given the same degree of scrutiny or fact-checking as Clinton.

Nevertheless, we live in the real world, not in the world we wish it would be.

When all is said and done, what is the net result on the polls, the indicators of what the results of the November elections might be?

As of Thursday morning, September 22, Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight had Hillary with a 58.8 per cent chance of winning against Trump's 41.2 per cent, while the Princeton Election Consortium had it at 69 per cent for a Clinton presidency.

This is considerably tighter than five weeks ago when Trump's chances of winning was likened to a kicker missing a field goal attempt, meaning virtually impossible. This contraction is best demonstrated by the odds being offered by the bookmakers.

Thus, while PaddyPower was offering (August 18) 2/9 for Hillary and 3/1 for Trump some five weeks ago, the odds have lengthened considerably for Clinton to win being now (September 21) 8/15, with Trump paying 17/10, a true two-horse race.

The fact is that the recent trend bodes badly for the Clinton supporters. If this trend isn't staunched soon and very soon, the game for her might well be over. And there seems to be momentum building on the Republican side.

Can we live with a Trump presidency - with a Republican-controlled House and Senate?

I am nervous.


Mental agony - Bog Walk tube tragedy


According to Dr Hammond, who was called to the scene, it was one he would never forget as long as he lived: "Men, women and children lying on the ground, rolling over, clutching handfuls of grass, stones and earth, and screaming aloud in the last extremities of mental agony" as they searched for their loved ones who seemed to be lost to them forever.

That was a Gleaner report of the June 24, 1904 Bog Walk water flume calamity as researched by Rebecca Tortello for the Gleaner series Pieces of the Past.

It is said that the 6,200-foot-long, eight-foot-diameter 'tube' was one of the largest such pipes in the world at that time. With its 1,700,000lb of cast iron and 260,000 rivets, this must have been a wonder to behold.

While travelling to Bog Walk and beyond as a child, in the late 1950s to 1960s, the remnants of this hydroelectric marvel of the West India Electric Company was unmistakably and starkly to be seen on the banks of the Rio Cobre.

We were constantly regaled with stories of the tragedy that unfolded in that tube many years before when 27, 35, 49 men (the number changing depending on which of our elders was the teller) perished.

The consensus of these storytellers was that the dead men's job was to clean the tube of sand, silt and debris. And that they were drowned when the water was accidently turned on, apparently not knowing that the men were still in it. So the story we were told went.

Even so many years later, our young minds could imagine the desperate plight and anguish they and their loved ones must have endured.

To quote from Pieces of the Past:

The early morning of June 24, 1904 dawned clear and crisp. In Spanish Town, St Catherine, and other areas outside of Kingston, men and women were lined up waiting to catch their tram to work as usual. They waited until they realised it was not coming. The lucky ones caught rides in wagonettes and buggies; the unlucky set out on foot.

No one was quite sure what had happened - only that there had been a temporary delay that would soon be fixed. By the time eight o'clock rolled around, wild rumours had begun to circulate about a horrible accident at the Bog Walk Power Station that had affected the tramcar system run by the West India Electric Company.

It was said that up to 80 men who had been cleaning silt and debris in the eight-foot-wide cast-iron pipe (also known as a flume) that carried water from the Rio Cobre River (sic) to the power station had been washed into the turbines and drowned.

By 9 o'clock, railway stations, newspaper offices, anywhere information could possibly be found, were packed with anxious enquirers. Much later, the only news to be had was that 33 coffins were sent out to Bog Walk by train.


The Accident


In Bog Walk, by this time, crowds had gathered at the power station.

Thirty-three were believed dead and 17 missing. A few hours later, it was confirmed that the 17 had managed to escape through a manhole near to the dam itself.

At one o'clock early that morning, 61 men had gone down into the huge pipe located about 15 yards from the power station. The pipe curved slightly upward and then sharply downward running directly into the power station itself. The men encountered about a foot of water and got down to work as usual.

Colin McDonald, one of the survivors, in speaking to a Gleaner reporter at the scene, explained that within an hour of going into the pipe, he felt the water level rise but he didn't think it was anything to worry about. It couldn't have been coming from the dam because the dam was closed. It was always closed when the men were working in the pipes.

But the water kept rising slowly, but surely and by 4:00 a.m., the men started to panic. Their supervisor, a Mr Douparrouzel, apparently tried to keep his men calm by telling them there was plenty of time to get out - there was an exit closer to the dam. But his men panicked and threw their torches into the water so that they were all covered in darkness.

Soon, it was said, a man appeared at the manhole with a torch lighting the way and calling to the men. Twenty-eight managed to get out in the over 20 minutes it took for the water to fill the pipe.


The remaining men


According to Gleaner records of the event, Douparrouzel, distraught by the experience and trying his best to come to terms with this catastrophe, could only seem to say that the water must have over time swelled to the point where it rushed over the sand and debris to flood the pipe.

Although no one lived to tell this tale, it is believed that three of the men located in a very narrow section of the pipe, panic-stricken, Douparrouzel explained, had tried to exit through a two-foot, eight- inch-wide manhole at the same time and effectively formed a human plug, entombing all 30 behind them.

These 33 were found drowned, all heaped together, their clothes torn, their faces and bodies completely mutilated.

While the general feeling was that someone had blundered somewhere for that level of water to have appeared, ensuing investigations ruled the catastrophe an accident, small consolation to the many who suffered great losses.

- Egerton Chang is a businessman. Email feedback to and