Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines, Dr. Ralph Gonsalves says his government expects that most evacuees from the volcano Orange Zone and people whose houses were damaged by the La Soufriere eruption are to leave emergency shelters by next Tuesday.
He said only those from Fitz Hughes and Chateaubelair — where there is still a lot of ash — would be allowed to go.
“But everywhere else in the Orange Zone, as I speak, persons should be leaving the shelters to go back home,” the prime minister said, speaking on NBC Radio from Cuba where he has gone to accompany his wife for therapy after spinal surgery in the United States earlier this year.
His comments came even as some Orange Zone residents who have attempted to move back into their homes have complained about the ash from public spaces such as roads, schools and playing fields, which are yet to be cleaned, are frustrating their efforts to clean their homes.
“….We need to get the number of shelters reduced immediately because there are 80-odd shelters. I think 85 at the moment. If we have, for instance 5-, 6-, 700 persons still from the Orange Zone – I don’t know the number – still in shelters, there are some shelters which consist largely of persons in the Orange Zone,” Prime Minister Gonsalves said.
He said if evacuees move out of these shelters, the government could close them “and just transfer…the residual numbers to another shelter and reduce the numbers, absolutely, at shelters.
“And where there are schools or learning resources centres or churches, we can begin to do the repairs, the renovations, and in the case of the schools, [this is] absolutely necessary for us to start early to get them ready for September.”
“And then, by next week, by next week Tuesday, we would expect that everybody below the Rabacca River, that is to say, what you call the entire Langley Park area, Basin Hole, Dickson, Valley, Chili, Georgetown proper, Brownstown come right down to Mt Young River, that they can go back from Tuesday next week because everything, water is in those areas, electricity is in those areas, and the ash is being cleaned up right now in these areas.”
Gonsalves said the government would provide food for people returning home.
“So, immediately, you will get, as you move back, a food package which would last for two weeks at least. That’s the idea, that’s the plan. And the resources are in the supplementary estimates for that and there is not going to be any penny-pinching on that,” he said.
The Prime Minister added that when farmers return to their homes they would get the income support Parliament approved last week.
The same will apply to people with other types of businesses and those who will get food packages and a stipend of about EC$150 beginning June, which was also part of the fiscal package that lawmakers approved.
“We can’t be paying you to keep you in the shelters and pay you to stay in the shelters. That would be an outlandish proposition. Nowhere is that sort of a thing done,” Gonsalves said.
He noted the comments of volcanologist Adam Stinton, on the same programme, urging that there be a limited activity, with stringent regulation centered on safety in the volcano Red Zone, which, in the east of St. Vincent, includes the communities north of the Rabacca Dry River.
Speaking on the same programme, Acting Prime Minister Montgomery Daniel, said that at the National Emergency Council meeting on Tuesday, members discussed ensuring that there is concentration of the cleaning south of the Rabacca Dry River and Fitz Hughes and south of Fitz Hughes, ensuring that those areas are clean before going into the Red Zone.
He said that the National Emergency Management Organisation (NEMO) will arrange with shelter managers to organize transportation for persons returning home.