Janelle De Souza
Clouds of volcanic ash over Barbados, after continuous eruptions by La Soufriere volcano in St Vincent, turned day into night on Saturday.
The ash has already affected life in Barbados, which is 118 miles east of St Vincent and the Grenadines.
At 8.30 am on Saturday, its Met Office issued a severe volcanic ash and small-craft warning. Then the Barbados Government Information Service Facebook page said Barbados’ Chief Medical Officer, Dr Kenneth George, advised residents to stay indoors except for essential activities or medical emergencies. And if going outdoors was necessary, people should wear a mask or cloth face covering.
In addition, around 10 am, Grantley Adams International Airport closed and announced it would remain so until at least April 11 at 6 am, and beaches were closed for the day.
Dr Erouscilla Joseph, director of the UWI Seismic Research Centre, told Newsday, “This has been occurring since the beginning of the eruption yesterday (Friday) and it is expected to continue as long as the weather, the prevailing winds, send ash being generated by La Soufriere into the direction of Barbados.”
She said, so far, she had not heard reports of any other areas being affected by the ash fall, and she does not expect it to reach TT with the prevailing winds.
The volcano first erupted early on Friday and by 7 pm there had been three “explosive events.” Joseph said La Soufriere erupted throughout the night, constantly pulsing ash into the atmosphere.
Dennis Johnson, senior producer at Starcom Network in Barbados, said there was ash fall from the northwest to southwestern districts along the coastline to Bridgetown. In St Michael, on the southwestern side of the island, visibility on the coast was very poor and Johnson said he sometimes noticed an orange hue in the atmosphere before it returned to a grey haze due to the ash.
He said the strength of the sunlight fluctuated so that it looked like 6 am, 6 pm, or 10 pm all day on Saturday. In addition, a light film of dark red to black ash settled on every exposed surface.
So far, there was no panic, which he believed was because people who were in Barbados when La Soufriere erupted in 1979 saw much heavier ash fall at the time. However, he pointed out that the Barbados Met Office expected high-level winds to blow from St Vincent on Monday so the ash fall may become heavier if the volcanic activity continued.
Johnson said on Friday the Met Office warned of ash activity resulting in a rush to fill gas tanks at gas stations but other than that, people remained indoors.
“Because of the covid restrictions and the various shutdowns, traffic has been light to non-existent. Barbadians have more or less stayed indoors. Although most of the covid restrictions were expected to be lifted at midnight on Sunday.
“There have been calls for those with respiratory ailments to take precautions. I have heard nothing to suggest there has been any distressed persons. Other than that it is a quiet weekend.”
So quiet that Newsday columnist BC Pires, who lives in Barbados, described the scene in St Phillip on the east coast as “unsettling” and “eerie,” and several times compared it to a scene from a zombie apocalypse movie.
“I have never seen anything like this. We haven’t had rain in Barbados for weeks and yet your visual information is telling you that the heavens are going to burst, that there’s going to be a thunderstorm at any moment because it could not be this dark without the possibility of very heavy rain.”
He said surfaces had been coated in a thin layer of ash since around 8 am, some people said they smelt the sulphur in the air, and around 3.45 pm he started turning on lights in his home because it was so dark.
He was told when La Soufriere erupted 42 years ago, Barbados got ash fall for a week, and expressed concern about a similar time frame this time around.
“This is not healthy for anybody. People with mental health issues are going to find it very difficult. On top of the extended lockdown we’ve had, dealing with covid for a year now, it has been very hard on a lot of people.”