Disaster barely avoided

“Let we in nuh officer.” “Is me president swearing and I gaffo see it.” These were some of the pleas made to the junior police ranks who were at times assisted by fire officers in manning the gate at the Guyana National Stadium, Providence on May 26. They resisted, informing some in the crowd that they could not enter because it would be a disaster waiting to happen.

20140215boxAnd that is exactly what it turned out to be: A disaster waiting to happen. But their steadfastness was in vain when unbelievably and preposterously, the organisers allowed hundreds of persons to enter the venue after the event had started.

The inauguration of Guyana’s eighth executive President David Granger as expected was a grand exhibition since it also coincided with the country’s 49th independence observance. It was expected that Guyanese would have turned up in droves, but the organisers of the event had publicly warned that after the maximum 16,000 persons entered, the gates would have been closed. They had also promised that those who were unable to enter the stadium would have been accommodated under tents on the tarmac where large screens transmitting the afternoon’s proceedings would have been mounted.

As early as 1.30 pm, persons were being told that the stadium was filled to capacity for the 3 pm scheduled event and even by then persons were already sitting in the chairs under the tents. Children were also making use to the bouncy castles and trampolines that were also on the tarmac for their enjoyment even though it rained.

At that point persons were already standing behind the seats in the stands of the stadium and huge crowds flocked the gates begging and demanding the obviously tired and overwhelmed police officers to be let in. Some were encouraged to make use of the grass mound, which still had space but because of the inclement weather many were not so inclined.

When the organisers had the gates reopened, their claim that ‘we want to accommodate as many of you and you should cooperate with us’ failed to take into consideration the serious risk that their actions could have resulted in. The cooperation they repeatedly begged for was for those who were allowed in to stand on the outskirt of the ground to remain in the earmarked area and not to venture further onto to the field which could have interfered with the Guyana Defence Force’s splendid display and that of the dance performances.

But while the organisers were concerned about this, and quite rightly so, they should have been more concerned about the dangers their actions posed. The opening of the gates (and there were reports that at least one gate was pushed down) did not only see persons being taken to the edge of the field but many of them swarmed the already packed stands. Many sat on the walkways on the stands and what was initially ‘standing room’ became ‘squeezing room’ as persons rammed into these areas. Packed like sardines would have aptly described the situation.

Persons who wanted to use the washroom were greeted with angry remarks and in some cases forced to become gymnasts as they manoeuvred around persons who refused to remove from the walkways.

Bracing and being forced to touch another person in not so pleasant areas occurred. A little girl complained bitterly of having a man spit in her face as he excitedly commented on the afternoon’s events. At one point he was eating nuts which made the situation worse.

At least in one case a woman fainted and there was no area to put her sit. The sea of bodies around her certainly did not help her situation. I cannot report what happened to her in the end as my concern was for the five children I had under my watch who were excited to see President Granger and Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo and all the cultural aspects dished out for the attendees enjoyment.

And so while some in the crowd roared in sheer excitement when these two men arrived, applauded the display of the GDF men and women and cheered the dancers on the field, some were busy just trying to keep their balance.

At the end of the excitement and sheer wonderment that so many Guyanese turned up in the inclement weather to view the momentous event the organisers should re-examine their actions. There was no reason for them not to stick to their initial plan, which would have taken into the consideration the safety of all present. It is true that the police officers present would not have been able to control the hundreds of persons without probably using violence and even this would have been futile due to the sheer number of persons present. However, the big iron gates should have been locked. Guyanese need to understand that there are rules and they should be adhered to. While admittedly many arrived before the 3 pm scheduled start of the event the stadium was already filled and after being told this they should have reverted to viewing it on the screens or returning home. Those who arrived after 3 pm, and many did, had no excuse.

As I left the stadium with my tired bedraggled group (we stayed for hours after because we were afraid to attempt to manoeuvre through the crowd with the children) we seriously questioned whether it was worth it. Was it worth it to put our lives at risk? The answer was a resounding no!

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