Lavalas victims remembered in service at packed St Paul’s


Bishop Wong leading the service


The service, presided by Bishop James Wong, assisted by Archdeacon Danny Elizabeth and Father Daniel Kallee, was attended by a large crowd including Health Minister Mitcy Larue, and Land Use and Housing Minister Christian Lionnet. 

Also present were the Mayor of Victoria Jacqueline Moustache-Belle and the chief executives of the department for risk and disaster management (DRDM) Paul Labaleine and that of Seychelles National Heritage Patrick Nanty, who had played key roles in organising the remembrance activities.

After reading from Genesis and the Gospel of St John, Fr Daniel said the religious service at St Paul’s was particularly fitting since this was the main refuge and depot of those who escaped the natural calamity of October 12, 1862.

He noted that one man who died in the avalanche was buried beneath the church. He noted that human negligence must be avoided so as not to harm the environment and trigger off more such disasters.

Fr Daniel recalled that heavy rains had again hit Mahe in December 2004. Luckily, he said, today we have structures such as drains and quicker mobilisation, as otherwise, there could be a repeat of the 1862 Lavalas.

Fr Daniel, however, cautioned against carbon pollution which, he said, is a grave problem – almost a national crisis – and is caused mostly by huge trucks owned by big companies. He called for deterrent actions, such as heavy fines against those responsible.

Recalling the dreadful disaster, historian Tony Mathiot said it had been raining for about five days when on the night of October 12, all hell broke loose when the clay which constituted the mountain ridges was so water-logged and heavy that it slipped, dislodging granite boulders, trees and mud. These swept down to Victoria, destroying the thatched houses and coconut plantations in their way.

Among those who lost their lives, said Mr Mathiot, were two sisters who had arrived in Mahe just in February. For over two weeks, after the landslide, bodies or parts of bodies of men, women and children continued to be found. He noted that the landslide had filled in an area of 400 metres long in front of St Paul’s. Later this was extended to provide a playing field, initially called Gordon Square and later renamed Freedom Square.

A newly built post office – built of rock – was among the few structures spared and one consequence of the Lavalas, Mr Mathiot said, was for future buildings to be henceforth built  in stone and lime, which can better withstand the elements.

Mayor Moustache-Belle said organisations, such as the DRDM, were set up in the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami and hurricane. She said the DRDM is now properly equipped to minimise and reduce the effects of natural disasters.

She also spoke of media management and said because of this, various components of civil society such as the churches and schools are better prepared today to cope with natural calamities.

She also noted that many other people, such as firemen, district brigades and the police often work in silence, unblocking rivers and drains, chopping off tree branches overhanging on the roads.