–more relief to be sent later
–PM Gonsalves says he’s in constant communication with President Ali
By Vishani Ragobeer
GUYANA will be dispatching relief items to the Caribbean island of St. Vincent and the Grenadines by tomorrow, following the eruption of the country’s La Soufrière volcano on Friday, according to a statement from the Office of the President.
On Saturday, President Dr. Irfaan Ali, Prime Minister Brigadier (ret’d) Mark Phillips, and Vice-President Dr. Bharrat Jagdeo held an urgent meeting at State House with members of the Civil Defence Commission (CDC) and the Private Sector to coordinate an emergency response to help sister CARICOM nation, St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
“Guyana is aiming to dispatch relief items over the next 48 hours,” the statement, which was disseminated on Saturday evening, highlighted. It was also noted that the team brainstormed the fastest possible route of getting the supplies to the islands, since flying is prohibited. The statement also highlighted that President Ali emphasised how important it is to get the relief items to the country quickly, and that he urged those present to put all systems in place to get it done in the fastest possible time.
Importantly, it was noted that this emergency response is expected to be the first of many from Guyana. A subsequent release from the Office of the President highlighted that Vice President Dr Bharrat Jagdeo, who was also at the meeting on Saturday, was in contact with the honorary consulate in relation to Guyanese on the islands.
“We’ve been fairly comforted that the Guyanese there are taken care of. There is no request on movement or anything,” the President was quoted as saying.
Already, the Guyana Bank for Trade and Industry Limited (GBTI) has established the St. Vincent Disaster Relief Fund to help the island as it deals with the disaster. Persons who wish to donate to the cause can do so by visiting any of the GBTI branches. The name of the account is: ST. VINCENT DISASTER RELIEF FUND, while the Account Number is: 011803403012.
Additionally, the Private Sector Commission (PSC) is collaborating with the CDC to mobilise support for St. Vincent and Grenadines. The supplies that are being organised will help to address the immediate needs of the people. These supplies include, inter alia: Water tanks, buckets, cots, blankets, potties, field tents and kitchens, sleeping mats, and hygiene kits. Persons desirous of donating items can contact the CDC on telephone numbers: 226-1114, 226-8815, 225-5847, 226-1027, 600-7500, 225-5347, 225-0977 or 225-5339.
Anil Jiandani, a Guyanese businessman who resides in St. Vincent, told the Sunday Chronicle that the country is in need of drinking water, non-perishable foods and hygiene supplies, since these items are in short supply at the shelters set up in the safe zones in the southern part of the country. He suggested that these items can be shipped to the country in a container.
Speaking to the situation on the ground, Jiandani said: “Everything is blanketed with dust; they got quite a bit of ash and sulphur here… It’s quite bad, actually; the eruption is much bigger than the one in 1979.”
According to the Office of the President, Prime Minister Phillips is expected to meet the CDC again on Sunday to evaluate the progress. Director-General of the CDC, Lieutenant Colonel Kester Craig, noted that the Commission will be working around the clock to acquire the needed items.
So far, commitments have already been made to supply drinking water, personal protective equipment, hygiene and sanitation supplies, water tanks and shelter supplies.
“Banks DIH has donated water (5-gallon bottles to fill a 20-foot container), John Fernandes Limited has donated a 20ft container and a 40ft container (to ship items to St. Vincent), and Gaico Construction and General Services has pledged two charter flights to the CARICOM island,” the Lieutenant Colonel noted.
DDL and several other big companies have also committed to donating items.
The press release also noted that as at Saturday afternoon, the PSC had raised several million in cash commitments and much-needed items. President of the Guyana Manufacturing and Services Association (GMSA), Rafeek Khan also indicated that the association has secured financial commitments. In addition to the relief items, it was highlighted that the Guyana Defence Force (GDF) is on standby in case they are needed on the ground in the aftermath of the eruption.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, during his Saturday morning address to his countrymen, noted that he has been engaging the governments in the wider Caribbean region.
“The President of Guyana has been in touch with me quite often,” the Vincentian Prime Minister said, adding: “They’re loading a ship to send a lot of supplies.” He also highlighted that President Ali informed him of the private sector collaboration, including the special account set up to send relief to the island. The Office of the President noted that the two leaders would engage again on Saturday night.
The volcano erupted at 08:41hrs on Friday, after the government issued an evacuation notice for persons living in the Red Zone, which is in the northernmost part of the island where the volcano is located, on Thursday night. This evacuation order was issued following an increase in seismic activity, indicating that the volcano would erupt soon. The Red Zone at reference is said to be “the danger zone”, along with the Orange Zone (the section just south of the Red Zone).
News 784, in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, reported that Geologist and Professor, Richard Robertson said that more explosions are expected soon, and that the first one was not the biggest.
“If there is a much bigger explosion, the ash can spread further to the south. This could continue for days or weeks, and monitoring will continue,” News 784 quoted Robertson as saying.
It was also reported that after the initial explosion, it is likely that others will occur. Later, on Friday afternoon, at 14:45 hrs and then at 18:35hrs, other eruptions were recorded. At 05:00hrs on Saturday, yet another eruption was recorded. Videos posted on social media by residents of St. Vincent showed ash spreading to communities, covering buildings and surfaces. On Saturday, Barbados Today reported that the ash had spread to Barbados.
Amid the unfolding natural disaster in St. Vincent, a number of other countries within the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) have also affirmed their assistance to the Vincentian Prime Minister and his people. Dr. Gonsalves was moved to tears on Friday during an emergency press briefing held after the initial eruption, due to the outpouring of support the country had received from its sister CARICOM states.
He said that Grenada, Antigua and Barbuda and Dominica should be ready to accept Vincentian citizens by Monday. Some hotels and guest houses there have been closed to prepare for their arrival, while some have offered to let Vincentians stay at their private homes.
“Amazing, eh! On this dangerous road to Jericho, we have the good Samaritans. To put people in their homes; strangers, brings tears to my eyes! I love this Caribbean!” he underscored, wiping away the tears. Meanwhile, Guyana’s Opposition Leader Joseph Harmon, via a statement issued on Friday, called on the government here to accommodate those Vincentians who need to be evacuated from the island. Harmon also pledged the opposition’s support to the people of St. Vincent.