In light of Tuesday’s deadly explosion at the Cul de Sac quarry, Acting Police Commissioner Milton Desir responded to a television reporter’s question at a press conference yesterday about what the law stipulates regarding the storage of explosives.
The reporter asked: “The citizenry has been acting as judge and jury since the explosion and many are questioning what is the protocol for storage of explosive devices, can you speak to that?”
Desir responded by saying explosives, “if imported… must first have an import permit from the Commissioner of Police”. Additionally, the senior cop said “storage has to be in the government’s storage facility” located in the Castries area.
He said when explosives are needed, they are given on “demand”.
“This is the procedure for storing explosives lawfully obtained in the island,” he further stated.
The cause of Tuesday’s blast that killed at least three people and injured over 20 have not yet been officially ascertained as investigation is still in an infancy stage, according to government officials.
However, several survivors, who were working at the quarry when the blast occurred, told various media agencies that the explosion was likely triggered by welding works that were being carried out on a container that had explosives or explosive material.
The eyewitnesses told media houses that a worker was doing welding work near or on the container when it sparked a fire. With smoking emanating from the container, the workers said this prompted several others to jump into action to try and extinguish.
One survivor told HTS News4orce that he along with with others were unaware that the container had explosives or explosive material until the rush began to contain the fire. He alleged that there was no signage indicating that explosives were in the container.
However, Rayneau Gajadhar, leader of the RG Group of Companies, the parent company for RG Quarry Ltd, which operates the Cul de Sac quarry, told a radio station on Wednesday that the promotion of safety in his business has always been a priority.
Gajadhar said while everyone is curious about what caused the explosion, the focus now is on the dead and injured, and their families.
“In terms of a statement as to what happened I cannot make a statement now as I do not have the facts…. We are all are foused on the people…,” he told the radio station.
In a statement posted on Facebook on Wednesday, the company said at this stage “we give our unwavering support and cooperation to the investigators as they assist and support us in finding out the cause of this unfortunate accident”.
Gajahdar’s brother, 38-year-old father of two, Simon Straughn, the quarry’s operations manager, was among three persons killed by the explosion. Eyewitnesses alleged that Straughn was one of several workers who responded to smoke coming from the container after he was directly alerted.
The other dead persons have been identified as Darren Gabriel and Kim Khodra, workers for the company.
The speculative cause of the explosion has evoked widespread debate on social media.
Several members of the popular Facebook group, St. Lucians Aiming for Progressive (SLAP) have expressed their concern.
One member wrote: “In Saint Lucia there is an Explosives Act: The law relates to the manufacture, importation, sale, storage, use and disposal of explosives. The persons who are responsible for carrying out and supervising the carrying out of this Act need to account for the incident that took place at the Quarry yesterday. There must be a public inquest to determine what happened, why and who should be held culpable.”
Another said the tragedy is a “no-go zone for politics” but urged the authorities to investigate, hold accountable and compensate.
The blogger further wrote that the Cul De Sac tragedy calls for a “timely, comprehensive, serious, and independent” investigation.
He said the scene of the tragedy must be secured and the investigators should be given “wide berth” and be free from “preconceived notions and allegiances” to ensure the integrity of the investigation.
The writer however cautioned that the general public must allow time for the completion of the investigation and not preempt the results and findings.
He said the public must resist “all temptations for prejudgment, conjecture, and conspiracy theories”.
“There is nothing to be gained politically from this tragedy by any side except for the charge of exploitation of a tragedy for political gain. You are doing a great disservice to the party whose interest you think you are advancing. It’s simply distasteful and disgusting.
“Finally the investigation should reveal all breaches of protocol for the handling and storage of hazardous materials.
It should lay bare all lapses in the observance and adherence to occupational health and safety issues in the work place.”