Despite the many criticisms of CARICOM and what many perceive to be a lack of integration, Caribbean nations and the Caribbean diaspora are prompt to extend a helping hand in times of crisis in the region. This is currently the case for the twin-island nation of St Vincent and the Grenadines, which has been experiencing volcanic eruptions since last week.
The La Soufrière volcano in St Vincent began erupting on Friday, April 9, blanketing the island in a thick layer of ash and forcing almost 20,000 residents to evacuate their homes. Between Friday and Wednesday, there were at least four strong volcanic explosions, the largest occurring on Monday, which marked exactly 42 years since the last volcanic eruption in 1979.
The National Emergency Management Organisation (NEMO) in St Vincent and the Grenadines also confirmed the collapse of the La Soufriere volcanic dome and the presence of destructive pyroclastic flows along the valleys on the eastern and western coast. Pyroclastic flows are dense, fast-moving flows of solidified lava pieces, volcanic ash, and hot gases. They are said to be the most deadly of all volcanic hazards.
“It’s destroying everything in its path,” Erouscilla Joseph, director of the University of the West Indies Seismic Research Center, told The Associated Press. “Anybody who would have not heeded the evacuation, they need to get out immediately.”
The ash emitted from the volcanic eruption has also been spreading by wind flows to cover nearby Barbados and to a lesser extent St. Lucia.
Since last week Friday, several Caribbean countries have mobilized support to assist residents of St. Vincent amid the eruptions.
The governments of Grenada, Antigua and Barbuda, St. Lucia, St Kitts and Nevis, and Dominica have agreed to provide accommodation for thousands of St. Vincent nationals.
Other Caribbean countries including Barbados, Guyana, and Jamaica have also agreed to provide relief to St. Vincent. The government of Trinidad and Tobago has additionally deployed members of its defense force to assist with evacuation efforts.
On Friday, St Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves broke down in tears, while thanking the region for helping St. Vincent nationals.
“It is very touching that there are families from Antigua and Grenada and St Lucia and Dominica who are calling in, and say that they will take people, if needs be, into their homes,” the prime minister said as his voice dipped, his eyes welling with tears.
“I sorry that I well up with tears. I regret—well not sorry. I regret that I well up in tears when I think of the goodness of the heart of our people and the heart of our Caribbean brothers and sisters,” he said.
Elsewhere, in the diaspora, various organizations are also organizing relief drives to assist St. Vincent. The government of the United Kingdom has committed to providing £200,000 in response to volcanic eruptions on the island. The Consulate General of St. Vincent in New York has also mobilized support for residents on the island.
In South Florida, several local businesses including Miami Carnival, Joy’s Roti Delight and GENx Mas Band have joined efforts with the Caribbean-American community to collect much-needed supplies for those impacted by the explosions.
Scientists say they expect the explosions to last for weeks. The lead scientist monitoring the volcano, Professor Richard Robertson, also said Monday’s explosion is equivalent to the one that occurred in 1902, which killed over 1,600 residents.
“What does that mean? It means, unfortunately, that it is likely going to cause more damage and destruction to St. Vincent. It also means there will always be a safe place in the south of the country, which might have a lot of ash every now and then, but you can still sustain life and limb and it would not—which is what we all worry about—get so big that it destroys the whole country. That’s currently doesn’t seem to be the case.”
Kingstown, the capital of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, is located along the southern coast of St. Vincent island.
Prime Minister Gonsalves said it could take four months for life to go back to normal in St. Vincent. He, however, promised that the island will rebuild just as it did in 1979.