Wilfred Sebastian was born in 1943 and has been a resident of the village of Colihaut all his life. He is a former Teacher, Principal, Education Officer and Chief Education Officer but nothing in life could have prepared him for the onslaught of Tropical Storm Erika.
“We were told that TS Erika was approaching but that it would not have much impact on us so we were more or less relaxed,” he explained. “Around 9:00/10:00 in the morning the rains continued to pour down as though it would never stop and the rivers started to grow and grow in size and width and power and we were just wondering how close it would come to where we were living.”
It didn’t take long for him to find out as the river began to roar and travel in their direction, shoveling everything in its path, including Sebastian’s house which remains one of the iconic images of TS Erika’s wrath, sunken in the silt at the mouth of the Colihaut River.
“Normally, the river would go more south but it came more north and we realized we were in trouble. Already a stone wall nearby was carried away. We could hear the huge boulders coming down the river. We realized it was going to be a different day for us,” he recalled.
The power of the river began hitting against the walls of the ground floor while he and his family stood on the verandah upstairs looking at the disaster unfolding before their eyes. Boulders began to hit the lower part of the house and then they saw the river rising higher and higher. It was only when the house started to shake that they became concerned but they survived because of their granddaughter.
“We felt some shakes, like a quake. The river was beginning to move the house and when I heard, ‘Grandpa, grandpa, this house is moving. We have to get out. We must get out’ and luckily our house was connected to my late father’s house by a back step because going out the front was out of the question. That’s where the river was raging. We escaped to that house,” he noted.
Before they realized it, the house had disappeared and every single thing in the two-story house was washed away.
“From pots, pans, school books and uniforms, already ironed for the new school term, to televisions, furniture, shoes and food, everything that was in the house vanished. The car disappeared and we didn’t see when. All we saw was the vacant spot where it was. After the storm blew over, we could see parts of the car; it was a green car and then we realized that it was one of the cars that sits on its hood in the sea. We identified it by the wheels that are barely visible above the surface,” he noted.
The garage and kitchen were housed downstairs but looking at the structure you would think that it was a house on pillars. The downstairs section is nowhere to be seen, save for a broken slab of concrete that would have been part of the garage.
Just next door, his brother’s house was totally annihilated; gone without a trace. Luckily the house was not occupied.
Sebastian’s wife, joined the conversation and described what happened next. She said that the current then began to pull things from under the house in which they sought refuge but by that time, thankfully, the strength was dissipating and the water receding.
“The river seemed to have how many legs, like an octopus. One leg was there, one in the middle, another one here. I’ve never seen that before and the current, the current. That river was raging and some vehicles went down and stuck under the bridge up there so that made it worse. Then it started to undermine the house we were now in but thankfully the water started to subside,” she noted.
Pointing to the road that runs north-south alongside their house, Mrs. Sebastian said that road became another leg of the river.
“The road in front the house turned into a river and we are in the tail so we got everything, from every angle. That river was raging. It was so upset. I don’t know what was happening. I’ve been here for the past 45 years or more and first time I see that. I was trembling and, as though, up to now I’m not okay. To me I’m not myself after what I saw; I was shaking like a leaf. I will be 70 in December and it was not a good experience for me at all.”
The Sebastians are happy that they moved out in time and happier to be alive. Things could have been much worse for them if they had stuck around on the verandah of their home for another minute. For sure, they would not have been around to tell their tale and the village of Colihaut would have been in deep mourning for a treasured family.
Thankfully, this was not the case.