WHEN Annecia "Smallie" Lewis left her Bagatelle Road, Diego Martin home last Friday with a friend, to take a dip in the Fond Palmiste River – something her family said she was accustomed doing – she would have done so not knowing it was to be her last swim.
A search by relatives, friends, hikers and the police, after Lewis failed to return home, ended in sorrow on Sunday morning when her body was found in the sea in Westmoorings. It is believed that strong river currents pulled Lewis underwater to her death, with her body eventually washing out to sea.
Police confirmed that at 7.50 am on Sunday, officers found the 37-year-old woman's body in the sea south of the river's mouth near the La Riviera Towers in Westmoorings.
The police also confirmed that numerous reports on social media – including from several news outlets – that two other bodies were found were completely false.
Ren Gopeesingh of the Hunters Search and Rescue Team, who assisted police with the search, confirmed that on Sunday police got a report that the woman’s body had been discovered in the waters near the Trinidad Yacht Club. At about 9.45 am, Coast Guard officers retrieved Lewis's body.
After the body was identified by family members who went to Westmoorings, it was taken to the Forensic Science Centre in St James, where an autopsy will be done to ascertain the cause of death.
FAMILY: IT WASN'T A HIKE
Relatives were reluctant to speak to Newsday on Sunday, but clarified that Lewis was not part of any hiking group, contrary to several reports.
“She accustomed going up the hill to that river,” said her sister Crystal. “She and her friend Sandy went there last Friday. She wasn’t with a group or on any hike.”
Residents said that is customary for them to frequent the Fond Palmiste River, the Blue Basin River and other watercourses in the area, especially on hotter days.
Newsday was told that on Friday, the area was humid after very strong wind gusts earlier in the day. However, at 2 pm, a heavy and sudden downpour took place and the sudden rush of water is believed to have caused dangerous currents which pulled Lewis under.
Newsday was told Lewis and her friend met with other people at a waterfall along the river, but when the water started coming down heavily, they decided to leave.
Relatives said Lewis, who was small in stature, struggled as she walked through waist-high water as she walked behind her friend Sandy, who managed to make her way out of the river. When Sandy looked back for Lewis, she had disappeared.
Villagers as well as the Hunters Search and Rescue Team, the police air support unit, coastal and riverine unit, the Fire Service and the Defence Force mounted an ultimately futile search for Lewis.
EASE UP ON HIKING
In expressing condolences to Lewis's family, Hiking Association of TT president Michael Jattan advised people to refrain from hiking for the moment, given the consecutive days of very bad weather TT has been experiencing.
He said that while hiking is allowed once groups are five strong or fewer, this isn't ideal, especially along watercourses such as rivers, made rougher by the recent heavy rainfall, since such a small group may not effectively rescue a person who gets into difficulties in the water.
“As a general hiking safety rule, once there is heavy rainfall at any point in time, one should avoid the watercourses,” Jattan said on Sunday.
Last Thursday, the Met Office announced an adverse weather alert in effect for both islands. The office said there was a high potential for heavy rain and high winds as isolated showers and thunderstorms were set to affect the area from midnight on Thursday.
The adverse weather alert was expected to end at 2 pm on Friday but was extended to 8 pm on Saturday, with the passage of a tropical wave. At 3 pm on Saturday, the adverse weather alert was discontinued, but by that time, several houses had lost their roofs and parts of the country were without electricity. Trees were also felled and landslides were reported.
The Met Office issued a hazardous seas alert from Sunday to next Friday, saying northeasterly to easterly high-energy swells are expected to affect nearshore areas along the exposed coastlines of Trinidad and Tobago.