Vincentian paints dull picture of her homeland

Just moments before La Soufriere volcano in St Vincent started spewing ash and hot gravel into the air last Friday morning, Ashecia Sam said she fled her home, after being alerted by her mother who heard strange sounds.

“Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves issued the evacuation order [last] Thursday at about 4:30 pm, but we were advised prior to start packing and be ready to go, because we were told that the volcano would start erupting explosively at any time,” said Sam, who is an editor at media organisation, One News St Vincent.

But unfortunately, the 35-year-old Vincentian said she was unable to evacuate on the same day as she was experiencing transportation issues. Sam said she spent the night at home, praying that the volcano would not erupt.

“In the morning [Friday] my mother asked, ‘You heard that sound?’ and I said no. She said, ‘That’s the sound I heard in 1979, when the volcano last erupted so it’s time for us to go.’ When we went outside, I saw this ball of smoke which seemed as if it was coming towards us and I was really scared, but as a journalist I found it so fascinating. I took pictures and then I decided to run,” she told the Jamaica Observer last week.

Sam, who lives in the volcano red zone area, explained that she was unsure of where she would stay, as she was not interested in going to one of over 80 government shelters, which she said, were facing serious challenges.

But she, along with her five relatives were later offered temporary accommodation courtesy of her friend, Glynis Bushay.

Approximately 16,000 people are living in areas under evacuation orders, with over 4,000 who have been moved to shelters, since the volcano started a series of eruptions on Friday, April 9.

The La Soufriere volcano last erupted in 1979 with no casualties. Long before that in 1902 more than 1,000 people died when the volcano erupted.

Sam noted that scores of people are now homeless, as their homes have been destroyed by the ash coming from the volcano.

“When the ash comes down on the houses and it rains, it thickens and produces a type of cement material, causing the roofs to collapse. There are some people who have evacuated from the red zones but do not have a home to go to when it’s all over – we have to deal with that and we also have to deal with COVID-19,” said Sam, pointing out that her house is safe, as checks were made.

According to the editor, there have been about 14 new COVID-19 cases since residents have evacuated their homes. She also said that those staying in the shelters have been opting not to be inoculated with the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, due to recent reports of blood clots in the United Kingdom.

“The prime minister has been advocating for it [vaccine] and there was an instance where he said people were supposed to be vaccinated before they got into the shelters [but] a lot of Vincentians are rejecting the AstraZeneca vaccine being used here, as it is reported in the UK, that it has caused blood clots. A lot of them have that concern and they are opting out of taking it,” said Sam.

In addition, Sam said that there was water shortage, as most of the watersheds, which were located in the red zones have been damaged.

“What we are doing now is rationing water. Some areas are fortunate to be in the green and yellow zones, so they’ll have water but not on a consistent basis. It has been advised that people store water. Things has been challenging – we are dealing with a very tough time, but we are appreciative of the gestures of the other countries which have come on board to assist us,” she said.

Sam, who is also a final-year journalism student at The University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, told the Sunday Observer that she has been facing challenges with online classes, as there is poor Internet connection.

“It is very difficult to work without stable Internet. I have messaged lecturers, trying to ask for assistance, but I am going to see what I can do. That has been my major challenge so far,” she explained.

Noting that it will be difficult to return to normalcy, if volcanic eruptions continue for the next few weeks, Sam said: “If it continues, I believe we would have to evacuate the island, as we are going to have a lot of issues in terms of water and food. The mental health of people has also been affected. I have spoken to some people who are saying that it is taking a toll on them…they are depressed. It is going to be a lot for us to deal with.”

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