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St Vincent is a huge ‘mess’


Fear has tripled as Vincentians continue to eye persistent eruptions from La Soufrire volcano, grapple with the over year-long novel coronavirus pandemic, and are now struggling to stay afloat after heavy rain pummelled St Vincent and the Grenadines on Thursday, causing flooding and mudslides across the islands.

Three Vincentians who spoke with the Jamaica Observer after the first eruptions from the volcano on April 9, have now said that things took a turn for the worse as about 15 per cent of the island’s population has been displaced, and at least a third of the country’s agriculture has been wiped out.

Fred, a livestock farmer, has been at a relief shelter with four other family members for almost a month, having evacuated Owia, their hometown, a day prior to an evacuation from the Ralph Gonsalves-led Government. Owia was established as a danger zone.

“I haven’t left the shelter as yet. I am still looking for a house to rent, but presently, I cannot afford those that are available. The shelter that I am at, nobody has left. We weren’t affected. As for our home in Owia, I am not sure. In fact, more people came to the shelter. There are 45 people here now,” he told the Sunday Observer, noting that it only housed 22 people before.

Over 20,000 people were forced to abandon their homes and seek refuge in shelters. Also, water and electricity supply have been vastly disrupted. Fred said the Government hasn’t given any directives that citizens can return home.

“Well, there is no all clear from the prime minister to go back into the red zone. There is no water, electricity, phone and Internet service in the area and the place is still in a mess. So, if people go back home, it is at their own risk. The prime minister hasn’t come out and say to remain in or leave the shelters. I guess he is waiting on Professor Robertson (Vincentian volcanologist) to give him the all clear so that he can tell us to leave the shelters. The volcano is still erupting it erupted this morning (Thursday) at 4:00 am.”

La Soufriere volcano has had five recorded explosive eruptions since 1718. It erupted on Friday, April 9, for the first time in 40 years. The cataclysmic event sent blasts of ash up to six miles high and reduced visibility in many areas. Subsequently, there has been a series of smaller eruptions.

“It is still foggy where I am. The rains keep down the dust a little. I am asthmatic so I haven’t gone back home since,” Fred added.

While citizens reeled from volcanic terrors, rainfall lashed the country for hours, with some areas receiving up to five inches of rain. There have been no reports of deaths or injuries, but property and infrastructure damage has been widescale.

Shellicia Small, 30, who has also been at a shelter since April 8, told the Sunday Observer that the rain has worsened the country’s plight.

“It’s a mess here. After one thing is the next. We are having heavy rainfalls resulting in flash floods and landslides throughout the island at the moment and we are still in shelters. A few people have returned to their homes, but that’s at their own risk,” said Small.

“Where I live was not affected by the rain but where I work in the capital of Kingstown was heavily flooded. So for me, to go to and from was very challenging and the work day ended early on account the flooding. In my home village, ash has covered everything and few buildings have been destroyed including two churches, one of which has only one wall standing. Also, few house roofs fell in.”

Small said mobility has been restricted as roads have been rendered impassable. She further describe the rainfall as “good and bad”.

“Majority of the ashes washed away and then the rivers came down with stones causing more blockage. Our main river, Dry River, has completely washed away. The only road connecting the village and those above it to the rest of the country was also washed away today (Thursday) in the floods, so that the only access is now by sea. The river is basically in the road now,” she added.

Authorities reported instances of caved-in roofs and landslides in rural areas, and damaged roads and bridges in Kingstown, the capital city.

Azanie Lavia, 24, a teacher, has been staying at a family member’s home in the safe zone (outside the proximity of La Soufriere). She said she is too afraid to return home to check up on her property.

“I don’t like to face these things. I can be very emotional and I am easily frustrated, so I try not to think about going back any time soon. Maybe when they fix everything and get it back to normal, I will consider. But honestly, it’s giving me a kind of fear. I don’t really think people understand the kind of anxiety that this eruption put on us mentally,” Lavia said.

And there are concerns about further eruptions, Lavia added.

“I’m thinking that even if I go back home, eventually, I’m going to always be wondering what’s next. Prior to the eruption, we were feeling tremors on that side up in the red zone. We are right on the slopes of the volcano. So, the week before, there were tremors and rumbling like a soft thunder.”

The week following the first eruptions from the volcano, Lavia said food and water were scarce. Three weeks later, there has been a “big improvement” in distribution.

“Red Cross (a humanitarian organisation) is delivering food stuff. Digicel gave us some food stuff. Different companies and some private persons came together and they will come and bring food boxes. One food company is doing meals… lunch and dinner for those from the red zone who are in private homes.”

On April 14, Minister of Local Government and Rural Development Desmond McKenzie said the Jamaican Government was organising support for St Vincent and the Grenadines.

McKenzie said both countries had been in contact, and a National Commercial Bank (NCB) account has been opened to facilitate donations from the public.

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