St. Vincent & Grenadines faces power outages and water shortages as volcanic eruptions continue

In the past week, at least five massive explosions occurred spewing portentous plumes of ash and smoke into the atmosphere and covering the island with a thick layer of volcanic dust. The ashfall has reached the neighboring countries Barbados, Saint Lucia and Grenada. Scientists have warned that these explosions could continue for months

April 15, 2021 by Peoples Dispatch
On April 9, the La Soufrière volcano in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines exploded for the first time after 42 years, throwing a 10-kilometer-high column of ash outward. Photo: Tedra Kirby/Twitter

On April 13 and 14, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) reported two new explosions from the La Soufrière volcano. They were less intense than the one that occurred on April 12, which was considered the largest and the strongest eruption in recent days. La Soufrière began erupting on April 9, a day after geologists reported an increase in seismic activity with a series of long-period earthquakes, and warned that this is an indication that fresh magma is trying to reach the surface and the volcano is moving to an explosive stage.

In the past six days, at least five massive explosions have happened, which have spewed portentous plumes of ash and smoke into the atmosphere, covering the island with a thick layer of volcanic dust. The pyroclastic flow generated by this series of explosions is flowing down the mountain slopes and is causing devastation. The ashfall and harmful gases released from volcanic activity have reached and is affecting the neighboring countries Barbados, Saint Lucia and Grenada. Scientists have warned that explosions of a similar or greater magnitude could continue for days or weeks or even months.

On April 8, Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves announced a “stage 3 disaster alert” and ordered the National Emergency Management Organization (NEMO) to begin the evacuation of people living in the area near the volcano. Between 16,000 and 20,000 people have been evacuated from Red and Orange zones. So far, the country hasn’t reported any injuries or deaths due to these explosive events.

On April 13, the government officials reported that citizens across the country are facing water shortages, as ash from the volcano has contaminated local supplies. The nation’s food supplies have been compromised by the contamination. In various parts of the country, the electricity services have also been affected. Additionally, the health risk amid the COVID-19 pandemic has increased due to the mass movement of people as well as due to the large amount of toxic gases released into the atmosphere, which has created conditions that are especially dangerous to people with respiratory conditions and other health concerns.

According to the head of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Stéphane Dujarric, the eruption of the La Soufrière volcano left some 110,000 people, without drinking water and electricity. The electricity services have been restored to most of the island now.

La Soufrière volcano

The La Soufrière volcano had been dormant since 1979. In the end of December 2020, it suddenly became active and began spewing steam and smoke, and making rumbling noises. According to official sources, in December, a new dome was formed next to the one left inside after the great eruption of 1979.

Almost four months later, on April 9, at around 08:40 am local time, it exploded throwing a 10-kilometer-high column of ash outward, with loud rumbles that were heard even in the capital Kingstown. According to the Seismic Research Center of the University of the West Indies, the power of the explosion was so strong that it caused lightning.

Locals allege that the ongoing eruptions are worse than the last one in 1979. Erouscilla Joseph, director of the Seismic Research Centre, verified this claim. He said that the latest explosions are equivalent to the one that occurred in 1902 and killed some 1,600 people.

International solidarity and assistance

In these difficult times, the member countries of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America – People’s Trade Treaty (ALBA-TCP) expressed their solidarity and offered their assistance. Cuba, Venezuela and Saint Kitts and Nevis came forward to provide direct assistance.

Dozens of Cuban professionals (members of the health and construction brigade) residing in Kingstown worked together alongside the Vincentian authorities in early and timely evacuation of the communities near the volcano. The government of president Miguel Diaz-Canel has also promised to provide support to the nation in this emergency to the extent possible.

Venezuela, despite being in the midst of the crisis caused by US commercial blockade and economic sanctions, sent humanitarian aid to SVG. On April 12, a Venezuelan navy ship reached the Caribbean country with the cargo, offered by the government of President Nicolás Maduro. The Venezuelan government sent a team of 68 trained doctors, rescuers, and natural disaster experts to help the SVG authorities in evacuation and recovery efforts. It also sent about 20 tons of non-perishable food items, drinking water, mattresses, sheets, blankets, sleeping mats, mosquito nets, personal health kits, and among other supplies.

Additionally, the government declared that the ship will be at the disposal of SVG for as long as the emergency lasts, and that it will also transport humanitarian aid from other Caribbean countries to the SVG.

PM Gonsalves thanked the Venezuelan government and the people for sending the aid. “Venezuela has helped the islands many times in recent years. I was not surprised that it lends a hand again so quickly,” said Gonsalves. “Good samaritans are not those who share a little of their many riches, but those who give the little they have,” he added.

Saint Kitts and Nevis’ PM, Timothy Harris, pledged to send an aid of over 1 million USD to the country to support its response to the disaster.

The member states of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) also offered their help to the government of SVG. The organization activated a regional support operation, which includes technical assistance in planning logistics and transferring the inhabitants to centers and hotels on the neighboring islands of Dominica, Granada, and Antigua and Barbuda.

The PM of Trinidad and Tobago, Keith Rowley, also sent supplies and equipment needed in preventive relocation of citizens.

The UN and its various agencies are coordinating the efforts and providing support wherever possible.

PM Gonsalves expressed his gratitude to other countries and organizations that continue to offer their solidarity and support.

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