Four ranks of the Guyana Defence Force (GDF) Coast Guard are currently battling for their lives at the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC) after suffering severe burns about their bodies after an explosion took place at the base in Ruimveldt, Georgetown, on Saturday.
Critical are Seon Rose, Terrence Neil, Isaiah Gordon and Andrew Garnette. Four other ranks are reported to have also been injured and are hospitalised for various degrees of burns about their bodies. Rose, however, is the most critical as he suffered severe injuries to his head and face, which have affected his eyesight. This newspaper was told that he suffered over 90 per cent body burns.
Reports are that at about 13:30h on Saturday, the explosives were being prepared for the annual fireworks display on Saturday night to usher in Guyana’s 50th Republic Day celebrations today (February 23) when the explosion occurred.
According to persons living in the area, they heard a loud explosion but assumed it was an electrical issue.
However, they heard screams and shouts from within the Coast Guard base which prompted persons to rush out. It was then that they saw several injured army ranks in the water and others were being placed into vehicles.
One woman related that she noticed a solider, whose entire arm and upper body appeared to be burnt being rushed into an ambulance.
Another resident recalled observing a few ranks with burn injuries lying on the ground as they were assisted by their colleagues to seek emergency medical attention.
Fisherfolk in the area told this publication that they were on the “landing” when they heard a loud noise and saw smoke emitting from a truck that was on the GDF’s barge.
“Then when I look I see that the man from the Army get pitched from the top there into the water and end up next to our boats. But then he get out the water and rush back to his Base. He jumped over things to get back in there to help his friends even though he was burn up too,” one fisherman said.
The eight ranks are all at the Georgetown Public Hospital. The Army’s medical officer, Major Nigel Langhorne, has also been dispatched to the GPHC to assist the doctors there.
Board of Inquiry
At the hospital, Chief of Staff, Brigadier Patrick West, told the media that rehearsal for the scheduled fireworks display were conducted on Friday evening at about 22:00h without any hiccups.
“It (the rehearsal) was well done and we were satisfied at the end of the rehearsals last evening (Friday evening) that we could have done the display today (Saturday). As they were preparing for the display today (Saturday), they encountered some challenges and there was some form of spontaneous, we believe to have caused the detonations to have occurred resulting in injuries. I have ordered a Board of Inquiry to be conducted to get to the bottom of it.”
Meanwhile, the GDF announced on Saturday afternoon that Guyana’s 50th Republic Anniversary fireworks display has been cancelled in light of the ranks who are attached to 21 Artillery Company being injured during the explosion.
The explosion resulted in a number of pyrotechnics being destroyed and rendered un-useable.
Additionally, the release noted that the GDF Welfare Department is working with the ranks who have been affected.
Also at the hospital on Saturday afternoon, was President David Granger. He told the media that the involved in the incident are experts in firework displays and would have participated in Barbados’ 50th Independence anniversary fireworks activities in 2016.
“They were meant to perform tonight (Saturday) outside of Stabroek. The ammunition was being loaded on barges and something obviously went wrong and one bomb might have triggered a chain effect. It is not as though there might have been any carelessness,” the President said.
Granger added that other ranks who were exposed to the explosives and loading them on to the barge but not injured will also be subjected to medical check-ups and treatment if necessary.
Meanwhile, People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPP/C) Presidential Candidate, Dr Irfaan Ali, took to social media where he wished the soldiers a speedy recovery.
“I hope and pray that the injured soldiers make a speedy recovery. Our prayers are with them and their families,” Ali said.