‘It’s not anything anyone would want to experience’

AFTER more than two weeks of eruptions from La Soufriere volcano in St Vincent, there continues to be fear and worry among some citizens.

Three Vincentians who spoke with the Jamaica Observer recounted tales of the growling and nerve-racking eruptions of the volcano – the first in 40 years. The volcano erupted a day after the Ralph Gonsalves-led Government issued an evacuation order for people close to the volcano.

Shellicia Small, 30, who lives in Owia, a town situated in close proximity to the volcano, which was established as a danger zone, told the Observer that her family is now separated.

“It’s scary. I was at work when the first explosion happened. I had to run to the supermarket to get what I would need. Later that Friday evening… the ashes started to fall and more and more explosions. At first, it was a sight seeing because it’s something I’ve never experienced or seen, but then things got drastic when the heavy rumbling, lightning and more and more ashes started,” she recalled.

“My entire family is staying in two different areas. Because of where I am living in the countryside, my family relocated from the red zone (danger zone) to the safe zone. I don’t know of the condition of my village yet, but from small video clips we’ve seen many house roof fall in. A village called Sandy Bay is affected the most on the windward side of island. The first time I heard the rumbling I started to tremble and cry, while my mother just lay there praying. It’s not anything anyone would want to experience. Right now, the country is in a mess.”

La Soufriere volcano erupted twice on Friday, April 9, sending blasts of ash up to six miles high and reduced visibility in many areas. A third eruption followed three days later, emitting ash, lava and gases, moving more than 120 miles per hour. Some 16,000 people sought refuge in shelters.

Fred, a livestock farmer, said he evacuated ahead of Prime Minister Gonsalves’ orders.

“I was told that my family home roof fell in, but I haven’t gone back home since, or seen any video or picture of the house,” he told the Observer last week. “I rear goats and I am not sure if they are alive. I evacuated on Thursday [April 8] and I am staying at a shelter because the prices for rent went up drastically. At my shelter, there are 22 persons – four children and 18 adults. We get meals on time and they are well prepared,” he said.

Fred has four of his relatives at the shelter with him. Other family members, he said, are in other locations.

“We are able to shower because we don’t have a lot of people in the shelter. Not all the shelters are like this. I was at another shelter before and I had to move because there was little to no water to shower and flush toilets. The meals weren’t the best and the donated items weren’t equally distributed because that shelter had over 100 persons.”

Meanwhile, Vincentian volcanologist, Professor Richard Robertson, has warned that while the explosions at La Soufriere volcano have been getting weaker and less frequent over the last two days, this does not mean that the eruption has ended.

But Small said she hopes normality is restored soon, as all aspects of life have been disrupted.

“School was supposed to reopen on the April 12 but can’t because majority of the schools are occupied by evacuees from the danger zone. The entire place is in a crisis. No water, we are running low on foodstuff. No clothing, we can’t go outside because of the ash and COVID cases are rising again. Some communities are without water. The place is hot and dry. Most of the rivers can’t be used because of all the ash.”

Added Small: “Our nation needs a lot of help and prayer because we don’t know how long this eruption will go on for. Some people lost their homes and their livestock. A lot are devastated because we don’t know when it would be safe to go back to our home, and some don’t even have a home to go back to. St Vincent and the Grenadines is under a lot of pressure right now. We are asking for assistance in many different areas.”

Twenty-four-year-old Azanie Lavia, a teacher, said she is in need of water.

“Right now, the main issue is water. The entire island is in need of water. It’s like a scarce commodity right now,” said Lavia, who was staying at a relative’s home. “I know some persons are staying at guest houses. I am in a family home, so it’s free of charge for me. But some persons try to avoid the shelters because of COVID-19 and so on.”

Lavia also said the damage to properties has been widescale.

“From videos I received from up where we live in the red zone, the destruction is a lot. It’s going to take a while to rebuild. The rivers came down and some boulders came down and destroyed properties and the bridges. You can’t even recognise where the road is in some of the communities.”

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