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El Salvador-born Guyanese hailed as Abary heroine


Diana Balram saves five

Mrs Diana Balram and her husband, Randy, yesterday

Of the eleven persons on board the boat, which sank in the Abary River on Wednesday, only two could swim.
One of the swimmers rescued his child and then drowned while returning to save others.
The second swimmer, a woman, held on to one child and managed to stay afloat with four others clinging desperately to her legs, her arms and clothing. She managed to paddle and float with them to the river bank safely.

Mrs Diana Balram, of Maryland, United States of America, became a heroine within seven days of arriving in Guyana for the first time: she saved five lives.
Yesterday she recalled moments of pure terror in the Abary river when the boat capsized.
Mrs Balram is a native of El Salvador and the wife of Randy Balram, a Guyanese whose grandfather, Mr Ramjit Ramdeen,recently died overseas.
She said that herself, her husband and seven others had traveled separately from the US to Guyana and had met twelve other relatives of the dead Ramjit Ramdeen. They had come from Canada to dispose of his ashes in the land of his birth.
During the family reunion, the members had buried the ashes over the weekend and then took the decision to visit the Abary Backlands for a “bush cook.”
Mrs Balram said that there were eleven people in the boat, all with the exception of the pilot, being women and children.

The boat had just pulled off to cross the river when she noticed that the front was low in the water.
“The guy who was driving the boat started up the engine, and it was going and then the front of the boat dipped and water started to come in. The driver turned off the engine fast, but by then the boat was already swamped and everybody was in the water,” she said.
“First thing after the boat started going under, I just grabbed the smallest child a little girl. As I grabbed her, I wasn’t thinking that anybody else don’t know how to swim. I was just thinking about the little girl.
“I knew she couldn’t swim. So I grabbed her and I was holding her up with my left arm and I was trying to breathe. When I couldn’t breathe anymore I didn’t let go of her I just kept holding her up.
“She was still there and then I don’t know how we moved but the next thing I knew, I had the little girl, her mother, my aunt, her daughter and Nica– another cousin– all screaming and hanging on to me for dear life.

“I tried my best to stay afloat and then I guess we got close enough to the bank of the river so the other people could pull us out.”
“It was crazy: everything happened so fast. It would have been worse if we were further out. Nobody would have made it out alive,” she said, “Nobody.”
Everyone clinging to Mrs Balram survived.
“The little girl that I held onto, she survived, yes she survived, the little darling,” Mrs Balram said.
“My husband was not in the boat. He came halfway from the bank as much as he could because he can’t swim too. Thank God he wasn’t in there,” she said, a sigh of relief escaping from her lips, even 24 hours after the ordeal.

Satesh Koshilla, the pilot of the boat and the only other person who could swim managed to save his eight-year-old daughter, Angelica, and then went under while returning to save others.
Another relative, Diana Ramjeet, eight, drowned. Mrs Balram expressed regret at her loss.
“I don’t know how it happened but she just drifted away from all of us,” she said.
Sharda Singh 38 of Blairmont, West Bank Berbice, another relative who died, was taken out of the creek, but died while receiving medical attention.
“It was such a terrible experience. It was scary; I hope I don’t ever have to go through that again,” Mrs Balram said.
She was however thankful that she had been able to save so many lives.
“Without me in the water, staying afloat, there would have been no one else for them to hold on to,” she said.(END).

Friday, May 29, 2009