Jamaica Gleaner
Published: Sunday | February 1, 2009
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Watery send-off for Portland crash victims
Paul H. Williams, Gleaner Writer

Pall-bearers brave the torrential downpour as they bear this coffin to its final resting place.- Photos by Paul Walker

IT WAS always going to be a big funeral, but the magnitude of the loss is even greater. Yet, for those who didn't know about the weather patterns in Mill Bank, Portland, they could not imagine the enormity of the rainy send-off seven of the deceased in the December 19, 2008, market-truck accident at Dam Bridge, in Portland's Rio Grande Valley would get on Sunday, January 25.

The rain, which has been lashing the area since Wednesday, January 21, let up somewhat on the Saturday. On funeral day, the skies, seemingly aware of the sad occasion, did not keep back a droplet of water. It was a watery display of nature's generosity and a poignant reminder of how powerless we humans are when matched against the elements.

heart-rending sight

Towards the end of the service, the rain stops and there is brilliant, hot sunlight, allowing the Port Antonio Marching Band to start playing. Then the service ends. One by one the seven caskets, some colourfully decorated, are removed. Pall-bearers, men and women, relatives and strangers, carry them through the water-logged football field to the hearses. People rush through the water and the muck to get a glimpse. It's a heart-rending sight. And the band starts to play, to lead the throng to the grave sites.

The musicians play and dancers dance. Water is everywhere. The road is rough; the road is slippery. The sun makes its unceremonious exit for the final time. The band marches on. Mourners scurry to and fro. The police instruct them to walk to the sides. They can care less. The hearses slowly make their way; the sky is now black again. Thick fogs drift over the mountains, slowly to meet low-level clouds.

The relatives of the deceased are in shock; they have never seen such a crowd in Mill Bank. They are beside themselves. The band plays. People crowd around pots of food; they are hungry in the miry state. Smoke rises from pan-chicken grills and wafts into the thin mountain air. The pungent scent of ganja floats on the wind.


Along the way, clear water runs in a ditch, but the road is muddy. Women gather at a standpipe, washing the mud from their hems and shoes. Men in their sartorial splendour roll up their pants creating huge cuffs at their knees. Some women, with shoes in hands, trudge through the mud barefooted. People can't find their relatives; confusion reigns. And it starts to rain - again.

Just as the first hearse reaches the burial spot, colourful umbrellas pop up. Mournful music blares from speakers, cameras snap away. Tears are streaming, the band is playing. People huddle under a makeshift shelter. Someone tolls the abandoned Baptist church bell. Its peal is a reminder of the liberation of death, and the freedom of life. And in a rainy place death is juxtaposed with life. There they are giving their loved ones and friends a grand send-off. Live people are crying over their dead in the showers.

One by one, coffins are carried over a mucky incline. Pall-bearers are soaked, but it's not a time for vanity and style. The band plays, dancing girls jig and step. It's a celebrating of the lives of the dearly departed, but it's also grief for the loss. Men and women cry. Overwhelmed by the occasion, some roll uncontrollably in the wet dirt, perhaps wishing they too could go under.

splattered with mud

The rain washes the tears from mourners' faces. Yet, it's a menace to some who want to see the graves. At another site, few people gathered around Althea Anderson's grave. A woman, not a nightingale she claims to be, leads the singing. The brown Rio Grande rushes by oblivious of the sorrow nearby.

In the rain, the concrete is being mixed. The workmen, some without shirts, some in suits, labour fast, to beat nightfall. There is a huge tarpaulin set up over the graves. The holes are finally covered, more bawling, more rolling, the band plays, music blares, people disperse, going back from whence they had come, splattered with mud.

Waters rushes from the hillsides; twilight is coming. The road is bumpy, vehicles are jumping. Mill Bank, Comfort Castle, Ginger House are flooding. Tears are still flowing. The region is in mourning.

Weeping in the rain.

Hundreds of mourners and well-wishers attended the thanksgiving ceremony for seven of the persons who died in the December 19, 2008, market-truck accident at Dam Bridge in Portland's Rio Grande Valley.

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