— Guyanese in St Vincent relate experience of volcanic eruption
FEW things could mentally prepare a born Guyanese for a volcanic eruption. Guyana is free from hurricanes, earthquakes (well, until recently) and volcanic eruptions; it is certainly a stark contrast to what it is like living in the Caribbean country, St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG).
The last eruption of La Soufrière volcano on SVG was 42 years ago — on April 13, 1979. On April 9, just about two weeks ago, the volcano erupted once again — and it has been erupting since then. The eruptions have rocked the island, forcing many people to evacuate from the danger zones, which are the areas closer to the active volcano. Photographs show buildings and surfaces across the island covered with a dark-grey powder that appears to be cement to the untrained eye. But, the powdery substance — that has been causing roofs to collapse- is volcanic ash.
“[It was] very scary for me… as you know back home in Guyana, it doesn’t have volcanoes or earthquakes,” Todessa Greaves, a Guyanese living in SVG, told this newspaper. Greaves has been living in SVG with her family for the past 17 years. She owns and operates a mini-mart in St. Vincent. When the volcano erupted, she related that she was not prepared — mentally or otherwise. Fortunately for her, she resides in Dorsetshire Hill, which is on the southern end of the island, away from the volcano. And so far, she has been impacted only by the volcanic ash that has spread across the island.
Still, Greaves, like a handful of other Guyanese on the island, are interested in returning home. For her, she has been rattled by the eruptions and fearful of what possible devastation lies ahead with the upcoming hurricane season. Last week, the Guyana Chronicle was told that some Guyanese on the island have expressed an interest in returning home because of the eruption of the volcano. Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Hugh Todd, said that possible repatriation arrangements are being assessed.
“We’re still assessing those persons who might want to return and [if] that is the case, we will make arrangements for that but right now, the airspace is closed and the focus right now, based on the request from the Government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines is for support for food items, water supplies and sanitisation items and so forth,” Minister Todd told this newspaper in an invited comment, on Friday. Meanwhile, Sunita Ghir, a former weather forecaster in Guyana, who has been living in SVG for the past 14 years, related that she has not decided whether she would like to return to Guyana, since the eruptions are ongoing.
She, however, has been assisting the humanitarian efforts in one of the many shelters set up across the island to provide a place of refuge for those people who had to evacuate the danger zones. The shelter at which she is volunteering is actually the secondary school where she teaches. “I was affected by the volcanic ash that fell like rain for a few days and blanketed the entire mainland, but this is nothing compared to persons living closer to the volcanic site,” Ghir said, highlighting: “Some lost their entire home as the ash got thick and heavy when the rain fell and cave in their roofs. Some even had their vehicles damaged from stones pelting during the eruption.”
She also highlighted that during her time assisting at the shelter, she has heard many heartbreaking stories from the people who were forced to evacuate their homes. According to reports, many of the persons forced to evacuate the danger zones had to leave behind their farms and homes, which could collapse due to the weight of the volcanic ash. Ghir lamented that some people have nothing to go back to whenever the eruptions stop.
Due to the devastation of the volcanic eruption in SVG, Guyana and several other countries in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) have been assisting. According to a recent press release from the Office of the President, President, Dr. Irfaan Ali assured the Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Ralph Gonsalves, that Guyana is fully committed to assisting the people of St Vincent and the Grenadines, not only in the immediate period, but also in the medium and long-term.
On Saturday morning, a shipload of supplies from Guyana arrived in SVG. More supplies are expected in the country shortly. The local private sector has been collaborating with the Civil Defence Commission (CDC) in mobilising support for St. Vincent and Grenadines. The supplies that were being organised would help to address the immediate needs of the people. These supplies include water tanks, buckets, cots, blankets, potties, field tents and kitchens, sleeping mats and hygiene kits, among others.
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. Additionally, 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 can do so by visiting any of the GBTI branches. The Account Name is: ST. VINCENT DISASTER RELIEF FUND, while the Account Number is: 011803403012.