By Dr. Dhanpaul Narine
It was a beautiful Friday morning when five friends boarded the Q41 bus. They were in a good mood, as their yearly exams were done. The start of the summer promised fun-filled activities. The friends stopped at Jamaica Bay, in Queens, New York. It is an area that is known for its treacherous currents. According to reports, around midday, two friends, aged 13, went into the water, near Broad Channel. They were dragged by a rip current deep into the channel and failed to make it to the shore. Daniel Persaud and Ryan Wong were rushed to the hospital and were pronounced dead.
The passing of Daniel and Ryan left the Guyanese community in a state of shock. Hundreds gathered at both homes in Richmond Hill, in Little Guyana, to pay their respects, including the students and staff of MS137, the school that the victims attended. There were also friends and relatives, from far and near, that expressed shock at the tragedies. Daniel was a loving child that cared for his family. His mother Samantha Singh wrote on social media that their ‘hearts are shattered’ at his passing. His father Brith Persaud, has described Daniel as an ‘amazing kid.’
Ryan Wong lived a few blocks away from Daniel. His home was also filled with mourners. Ryan’s mother Lisa Shiwmangal, is from Port Mourant in Berbice, Guyana. At Ryan’s funeral, Pastor Steven called Ryan an exemplary young man that was doing well in school and was tipped to go far in life. The passing of both young men leaves families that are devastated and who must now spend time trying to heal.
More tragedies followed in the week after the drowning. It was another fair Friday when Little Guyana went about its business.
The flames and fumes in 125 Street filled the surrounding area. Several buildings were engulfed in fire and the smoke could be seen miles away. This was no ordinary fire. It quickly moved from one building to the next, and the heat was so intense that some homes across the street were scorched. It took over 200 fire fighters to bring the fire under control. Mayor Eric Adams visited the families and expressed his concern and sympathies.
At first, the television news stated that no one was injured. But this was later retracted. It was learned that three persons died. They were Nandaraj Persaud 59, his wife Bibi Shalima 53, and their son, Devon 22. The victims were all from Guyana. They lived in the basement of the house. This fire is bound to raise questions about basement occupancy and the need for exits, and fire alarms, among other requirements. A number of persons have had to be rehoused as a result of the fire.
Pandit Chunelall Narine, priest in charge of the Shri Trimurti Bhavan in Queens, opened the doors of the Mandir to a family and their children, until they were able to find other accommodation. A Go-Fund Me drive has raised thousands of dollars for the families and many offers of food, clothing and toys, have poured into affected families.
A meeting was held at the Masjid al Abidin to discuss the services that could be offered to the victims. Several community organizations were present and interviews were held with those affected to determine what help could be given. In the days that followed, Rohan Narine from Community Affairs, in the Mayor’s Office, was a busybody, in trying to make the process simple. One affected householder, Santram Dukhbanjan 80, called Rohan ‘a Godsend’ and he thanked the Mayor’s Office for its support. The tragedies in the community have been felt far beyond Richmond Hill, and it was great to see the kindness and caring of people as they opened their hearts and wallets to help. A number of organizations and private individuals stepped forward to help, and those affected are extremely grateful.