Relief aid, comprising mostly food water, face masks and sanitization kits have poured into St. Vincent from its Caribbean neighbors in the wake of the devastating April 9th eruption at the La Soufriere volcano that crippled water, electricity and other basic systems officials said.
Governments and private sector organizations across the 15-nation grouping mobilized massive relief packages in earnest following appeals from the cabinet of Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves as massive eruptions from the volcano in the north of the island led to the evacuation of more than 12,000 residents, the establishment of emergency shelters and officers by the world’s major cruise liner companies to ferry out anyone who was willing to leave for a nearby island free of cost.
At the start of this week, the regional Seismic Research Center based in Trinidad reported a massive explosion at the site late on Sunday. The center said it had counted 30 such explosions so far and expect more in the coming weeks.
Regional heads of governments, meanwhile, met virtually in emergency session on Thursday and were warned that “the situation would be prolonged given the level of uncertainty in respect of the behavior of the volcano but member states indicated the level of support that had already been delivered and committed to providing further financial, technical and material support, in particular food and water. Security assistance is also being provided,” the leaders said in an official update.
PM Gonsalves reported that the pyroclastic flows from the volcano have decimated crops and vegetation and compromised water sources, hence the emphasis in appeals for water and dry food supplies.
La Soufriere last erupted in this very month of April back in 1979 as well as in 1902, killing nearly 1,700 people. Authorities have reported no deaths or serious injuries this time around as experts had given the island nation ample warnings about an imminent major explosion and suggestions about evacuation to the safer southern portions of the island.
As locals brace for a prolonged period of disruption, businesses and some state agencies in neighboring Barbados are reopening fully this week at the end of a national clean-up exercise of tons of ash fall from the volcano. The island was the worst affected of St. Vincent’s neighbors, as the downpours closed the lifeline Grantley Adams International Airports, schools and workplaces, blocking out the sun during the day and snarling traffic. Large ash plumes had reached Barbados, 118 miles to the east, within hours of the first massive eruption.
Towards the end of last week, a Royal Caribbean cruise liner, the Celebrity Reflection, called at the Kingston port to evacuate dozens of Canadians, British and American tourists and medical students to nearby Dutch St. Maarten, ignoring warnings from officials about the high possibility of being infected by Covid-19 on board such ships.
Local officials have also expressed concern about a spike at the numerous state shelters scattered around the safe zone in the south, as officials have not demanded negative PCR tests as a criteria for entering and receiving assistance.
“We are telling them that there is a COVID-19 outbreak within one of the shelters, so they have to be on their guard and they need to keep themselves safe and that is how they are going to protect themselves and protect others. It’s a bit difficult, because you have to keep reminding them to keep the masks on. So yes, it has been a bit difficult. “We tell them to wear their masks at all times and that can help and there is water in the pipes so they are encouraged to wash their hands and keep their places clean,” Barbados Today newspaper quoted Chief Medical Officer Simone Keizer Beache as saying.