Gustav drove survivor to coke, alcohol - Rastafarian remembers how parents died in storm’s wrath
Though Tropical Storm Gustav wreaked havoc Jamaica on August 29, 2008, and is long gone, George Campbell feels like the eye hovers over his life in Kintyre, St Andrew.
Since that day, the father of 10 became an alcoholic and was hooked on cocaine for seven years. The pain of losing his parents, Leonard and Hannah, to the ravages of the storm, drove George to reportedly drink nothing but rum for a month. He even tried to get admitted to Bellevue Hospital, the country’s chief mental health facility, but was rejected as not needy of psychological help.
Three houses, three vehicles, and a grocery shop were swept off the riverbank that August day, but the 50-year-old Rastafarian declared it immaterial compared to the deaths of his mom and dad.
“When I found my mother, my queen, I was so messed up, and I haven’t found my king ... ,” Campbell told The Gleaner.
“It mash me up to date, ‘cause the whole sentiment attached to me,” he added, beating his chest in grief.
Twelve and a half years later, tears stream down his face as he recounts the ominous statement that appeared to foreshadow the double death.
“That day, mi remember in the morning my mother tell mi that she ain’t crossing no more river, and ‘That’s it,’ and mi a seh, ‘Weh you a talk ‘bout, Mama?’” Campbell said.
His parents insisted on staying at their home because they were frustrated with having to evacuate and seek refuge elsewhere every time the country braced for heavy rainfall.
“Mi nuh even know weh my house deh. It come in like a submarine; it just sink so and go down – mi shop and everything.”
“Mi tyad a it” were the words of his mother that sent the couple downriver, and him over the edge contemplating suicide. As the only boy of four children, he said he cries out while others cry inside.
“Mi bawl and cry out. Mi haffi bawl out. Fi di seven years mi bawl and cry,” said Campbell, who wailed as he reflected on Hope River.
The auto body technician, who pointed out that he could stretch a pound of flour and a dozen ackees to feed his large family, said he has been rescued from the brink by his new-found sense of duty for his children.
“I love them endlessly. So I put back myself to self and say, ‘Wow! My son dem need me and my daughter dem need me,’” he told The Gleaner.
As a rain-dependent river that channels water from surrounding communities and tributaries streaming from the hills of the Blue Mountains, the volume and pressure of the Hope River have been very unpredictable. The Kintyre and Hope Flats communities in St Andrew have been more susceptible to major damage when the river is in spate because they have been established on a floodplain.
Campbell is aware of Prime Minister Andrew Holness’ pledge to declare riverbanks and other precarious areas no-build zones. That statement was made in late 2020 after heavy rains pounded the island in October and November, wreaking more than $8 billion of damage to roads and agriculture. Two people died in Shooters Hill, east rural St Andrew.
The flood toll does not include destruction to homes and businesses.
The grieving Rastafarian is hopeful that Holness’ words become policy and action.
“Nuff a we live pan a banking and don’t even know what time is it.”
“Literally speaking, Hope River is a serious river. Nuff people weh live pan di banking, me a beg dem come off a di banking and seek higher grounds,” beseeched Campbell.