When Disaster Strikes!
By “Awake!” correspondent in Australia
IT WAS 8:40 a.m. Tuesday, January 18, 1977. My wife and I were driving toward our next congregational assignment in Sydney, Australia. Suddenly, a police rescue squad, with sirens screaming, overtook and passed us at high speed. Within minutes ambulances and fire engines were coming from practically every side street to join the chorus of warning signals as they sped toward the scene of the worst rail disaster in Australia’s history.
The train, filled with some 600 commuters, and with standing room only, left the rails on a long sweeping curve at the precise moment it passed under a bridge at Granville Station. It ripped into the steel stanchions supporting the bridge above. In seconds, a 200-ton section crashed onto two of the crowded carriages below. It descended with a sickening roar, squashing both carriages and their passengers into a space of just two feet (.6 meter). Adding to the scene of utter confusion and carnage, three cars came down with the overhead bridge.
City Brought Together
The tragedy brought the city together in an unprecedented way. Startled news commentators simply were out of breath, overcome by human emotion. Some were weeping as they observed the scene. Dr. Louis Kline of Sydney’s Royal Prince Henry Hospital said: ‘It was chaos . . . utter chaos! Everyone was working frantically. We went straight to the wreckage . . . Underneath it was one of the most horrible sights I’ve ever seen.’
At the scene, passengers clawed with their hands to help others trapped and injured. Painkillers, oxygen and blood were administered, and amputations were performed, on the spot. Rescuers bravely crawled under the fallen slab of concrete to give aid where possible and comfort to those who were dying. For some, rescue came; for others, it could never come. So swift was their death that they still held newspapers in their hands.
The Metropolitan Disaster Program, designed for just such a situation, functioned with speed and precision. Many businesses donated food and supplies. Hundreds offered accommodations and transportation for relatives of the victims, as they needed it. Holidays were offered to bereaved relatives or the injured, from motels up to 2,000 miles (3,219 kilometers) away. Darwin, a city devastated by a cyclone on December 25, 1974, and 3,000 miles (4,828 kilometers) distant, opened an appeal for the victims and their families.
In large cities, cooperation and willingness to become involved often are lacking. But on this day in Sydney, apathy was not the prevailing spirit. For thirty-one hours the horrifying rescue drama continued until the last of the dead was removed from the wreckage. Eighty-two persons finally were counted as dead, with over ninety others injured, some critically.
Our Preaching Work Affected
As a traveling overseer among Jehovah’s Witnesses, I was eager to engage in our usual witnessing activity from door to door. People needed “comfort from the Scriptures.” (Rom. 15:4) So, my wife and I met the small group of Witnesses assembled that morning in order to visit people of the district. Until then residents of that particular region had been indifferent to the Bible’s Kingdom message, with its promise of better times, the abolition of death and the removal of sorrow. However, it was much different during our week-long stay.
Residents of Sydney were in a state of shock at the horror that had struck. Though the majority seemed to comfort themselves with the thought that “when your time comes, you have to go,” the reality of death and the uncertainty of life became topics of immediate concern to many. Questions regarding these matters replaced former apathy and indifference.
In sharing the Bible’s message from house to house, we referred to these words of Ecclesiastes 9:11, 12: “Time and unforeseen occurrence befall them all. For man also does not know his time. . . . the sons of men themselves are being ensnared at a calamitous time, when it falls upon them suddenly.” But we also emphasized the Bible’s promise of the time near at hand when “death will be no more, neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be anymore.” (Rev. 21:4) These Scriptural statements generated a great amount of interest among people who previously seemed to lack the desire to discuss anything spiritual.
Most associates privileged to make house-to-house calls during this memorable week left with householders numerous copies of the book Good News—to Make You Happy, published by the Watch Tower Society, which explains why mankind may have protection from such disasters in God’s new order, now close at hand. Also, many thought-provoking Biblical discussions were had with the people.
How vital it is that we do not await a disaster in order to consider spiritual matters or to become actively concerned about our fellowman! The Bible warns of a rapidly approaching “great tribulation” of gigantic proportions. Those who now learn about that imminent calamity through Bible study can take steps to avoid the destruction it will bring.—Matt. 24:21.