Haiti begins mourning period following Carnival tragedy; singer thankful to be alive

Singer Darinus Daniel, whose stage name is "Fantom," from the Barikad Crew music group, talks with journalists from his hospital bed in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Wednesday, Feb. 18, 2015. Daniel is recovering after being shocked by high-voltage wires during Tuesday's Carnival parade.
Singer Darinus Daniel, whose stage name is "Fantom," from the Barikad Crew music group, talks with journalists from his hospital bed in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Wednesday, Feb. 18, 2015. Daniel is recovering after being shocked by high-voltage wires during Tuesday's Carnival parade. AP

Daniel “Fantom” Darinus, the hip hop singer whose run-in with a power line led to the deaths of almost 20 people during Carnival festivities, said on Wednesday that he had been distracted and had forgotten he needed to clear a final live wire on the parade route.

“We knew there were three power lines,” he told the Miami Herald from his hospital bed. “The other two, I had bent down for. On the third, someone was talking to me and I forgot about the line. It was while turning around that I ran right into it.”

The contact immediately set off a flashing volt of electricity and a chaotic stampede that left 18 people dead and 76 injured, government officials said, increasing the death toll from Tuesday by two. All but one female have been identified.

His head and right hand bandaged, and visible burn marks covering his face, Darinus said he felt lucky to be alive.

“My time hadn’t arrived yet,” he said. “God saved me. He kept me here so that I could finish the mission he gave me.”

Already a celebrity as a member of the popular hip hop group Barikad Crew, Darinus has become even more of a cause célèbre in recent days. Everyone from fellow musicians to everyday Haitians are wondering how he managed to survive the jolting volt that knocked him off the top of a speaker on his group’s moving Carnival float.

“The doctors are keeping me here for some more observation but they said they see I am making a fast recovery,” he said. “I didn’t have any problems with my vocals. I could stand, sit without any problems.”

The accident, which occurred at 2:48 a.m. Tuesday, forced Haiti to cancel the final day of Carnival and begin an official three-day mourning period.

Dr. Claude Surena, the physician in charge of the National Carnival Committee’s medical response, said that almost everyone who had been hospitalized has been released from local hospitals except for six people, including Darinus.

“Their situation isn’t grave,” he said. “They are all stable.”

Surena was speaking at a news conference where government spokesman Rotchild Francois Jr. and Interior Minister Dr. Ariel Henry announced that the government would help bury those who lost their lives. A wake would be held at 7 p.m. Friday on the Champ de Mars, the network of public squares where the tragedy occurred, followed by a funeral service at 9:30 a.m. Saturday at the site.

Francois stressed that the funeral would be an official burial rather than a national one. Prime Minister Evans Paul had promised a national one when he had announced that he was canceling Carnival in response to the tragedy.

Officials didn’t elaborate on any reason behind the change, but their offer to send victims off with national fanfare and honors had triggered debate. While Haitians are saddened by the event, many questioned if it merited a national funeral, which is usually reserved for former presidents and dignitaries.

Barikad Crew had been on the parade route for almost five hours performing for fans on a packed float when Darinus, standing atop a towering speaker, approached the third power line that 10 other floats had cleared with no problems.

The electrical shock immediately knocked him unconscious. He temporarily opened his eyes while doctors were tending to him at first lady Sophia Martelly’s medical stand, he said, but he didn’t fully regain consciousness until he woke up at the state-owned OFATMA hospital.

“Everybody has a mission, a task they have to fulfill,” Darinus said, trying to grasp why his life was spared. “When you’re done doing what you have to do, that’s when your time arrives for you to leave this Earth.”

As he spoke, his cellphone rang continuously with people calling to get updates on his condition. Outside his hospital suite was a throng of visitors. At the hospital’s entrance was a line of people trying to get in to see him.

In addition, he received visits from President Michel Martelly and the first lady, and former presidential candidate Jude Célestin. He downplays the visits, saying his main focus is to get out of the hospital and return to performing. He said he’s working on a fifth solo album.

The accident has stirred debate about low power lines, which have historically been a problem in Haiti.

“As long as there are power lines up there, they will always pose a problem,” Darinus said. “The government needs to put someone in charge to deal with this. Musicians shouldn’t have to have someone on their float responsible for this.

“When someone is on the float, the music can also distract them as well, making them forget all about the lines,” he added.

In Haiti, it is a tradition for musicians to be accompanied on floats by people responsible for moving the power lines with a wooden Y-shaped stick.

Jeff Thelus, 29, a friend of Darinus who had been sitting behind him on the float and wasn’t injured, said normally there would have been two people on the group’s float tasked with lifting dangling power lines. There was only one, and he was in the back of the float, which Darinus also confirmed.

“He didn’t have time to come to the front of the float,” Darinus said.

Carimi, a popular Haitian konpa band, had six people assigned to lifting the lines, band manager Fritz Hyacinthe told the Herald. T-Vice, another popular konpa band, had four people — two in front of the float and two in the back — to pay attention to the power lines, lead singer Roberto Martino said.

In 2008, Martino suffered a similar fate as Darinus, also during the second day of Carnival, he said. He was standing atop the group’s float when his microphone hit the very same power line.

“I fell from the top straight to the bottom,” Martino said, estimating that it was a 16-foot drop. “When that happened, it was only me who got electrocuted. With this accident, I see that all over again.”

Musicians say that while there have been safety improvements to Carnival, such as decreasing the size of floats from 22 feet wide to 16 feet wide, the power line issue needs to be addressed.

“They should eliminate these wires. This kind of accident didn’t happen only in Haiti. It also happened in Brazil,” Martino said about an accident Tuesday near Rio de Janeiro that left three people dead after their float hit a power line. “They should just eliminate electricity on the parkway altogether. That’s the best solution.”

Francois, the government spokesman, said that in addition to a commission being set up to investigate the incident, a committee will be put in place to address Carnival safety, including what to do about power lines before next year’s event.

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