Tue | Sep 18, 2018

Gilbert Memories - 30 years later | Heroic rescue at the St Ann Infirmary

Published:Wednesday | September 12, 2018 | 12:08 AMCarl Gilchrist/Gleaner Writer
Devon Evans (right) and his granddaughter Amoy relaxing at home last Monday.

A similar scene might have been played out in other sections of the island but at the St Ann Infirmary in Priory, Hurricane Gilbert's fury brought terror to the residents, workers and Red Cross volunteers who turned out to help in the heights of the storm.

Veteran journalist Devon Evans, who was the publicist at the Red Cross Society, St Ann Branch at the time, was part of a team that braved the high winds and rain to ensure that the almost 100 residents at the infirmary were safe.

"As Red Cross, we met the evening before and we were prepared for it," Evans told The Gleaner. But on the day of the hurricane it appeared that no amount of preparation would have been sufficient.

"We were at the St Ann's Bay Primary School preparing that shelter for persons seeking refuge, along with the director of the St Ann Red Cross ... we were in the principal's office when we got a call from the St Ann Infirmary that the sea was coming in and threatening the residents there," said Evans who was asked to rush to the infirmary.

"I took a couple of brethren ... and we went down to the infirmary. When we went there we saw that the sea was in a rage and the rain was coming down so we decided to move the residents who were on the floor closer to the sea.

"While there, I was inside the matron's office, at the time I was also a correspondent for RJR, and while giving a live report on RJR, the roof of the matron's office caved in on us and zinc started to fly all around off the infirmary. We could see zinc wrapping up around the light wires. People were terrified," noted Evans.

With the matron and staff, Evans tried to comfort the residents and prepared them for evacuation.

Those who couldn't walk had to be lifted to a van belonging to one of the Red Cross volunteers, as they got ready to make the first trip to the St Ann's Bay Primary School.

But after they loaded the first set of residents into the van it refused to start before finally coming to life.

"The infirmary was tearing down and the residents were screaming and we were there trying to keep them calm. Then we got another vehicle and sent off some more and Louie (the van driver) came back and packed the van again to make another trip.

"We heard later that the van broke down in St Ann's Bay, so we had to get some guys to remove the inmates from the van and into the St Ann's Bay Baptist Church Hall because that was the closet point."

Evans noted that the heroic efforts of those involved in ensuring the safety of the residents of the St Ann Infirmary during the height of the storm went seemingly unnoticed to this day.

According to Evans, outside of the residents and staff, no one seemed to have recognised the gallantry displayed by the Red Cross volunteers at the St Ann Infirmary.