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St Vincent finance minister: 20,000 expected to be displaced for months – Trinidad and Tobago Newsday


The town of Chateaubelair, which is in the red zone near the La Soufriere volcano in St Vincent, is covered in ash after the first eruption on Friday. - PHOTO COURTESY CLARE KEIZER OF THE SEARCHLIGHT NEWSPAPER
The town of Chateaubelair, which is in the red zone near the La Soufriere volcano in St Vincent, is covered in ash after the first eruption on Friday. – PHOTO COURTESY CLARE KEIZER OF THE SEARCHLIGHT NEWSPAPER

AN ESTIMATED 20,000 people will be displaced from their homes in St Vincent for about three to four months, the country’s Finance Minister Camillo Gonsalves said on Sunday.

Gonsalves gave an update on the status volcano’s activity on the island and the latest on evacuations, three days after its latest eruptions began.

He said, “The immediate evacuation was somewhat chaotic, but largely successful.”

It has been reported that some homes in St Vincent have already begun to collapse under the weight of ash.

About 20,000 people on the north east and north west sides of the island, closest to the La Soufriere, were ordered to leave their homes starting on Thursday evening after St Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves issued a mandatory evacuation order. Some left their homes to stay with their families on other parts of the island, while others took refuge in shelters, on other islands, and on board cruise ships.

On Sunday, the finance minister said, “Historically, the volcano keeps going intermittently for a couple months. Explosive events are ongoing. The island is covered in ash, from a dusting/few inches in the south to many feet in the north.

“The scientists’ predictions were very accurate and we managed to get the majority of the people out of the danger zone before the first explosion.”

He added, “Of course, some people chose to stay and only decided to leave once explosions were underway. The immediate evacuation was somewhat chaotic, but largely successful.”

Gonsalves went on to describe conditions at shelters as “uneven,” with some being more “adequate” than others, and that the government was “probably two weeks too slow in acquiring additional cots,” resulting in a few thousand remaining on Miami, waiting for clearance. There is the additional hindrance of airspaces being closed to heavy ash.

Although
many are sleeping on the floor, Gonsalves said, the situation is slowly being resolved through donations and makeshift solutions.

“The big immediate challenge is the comfort, care and safety of evacuees. Covid is a huge underlying threat given the conditions in which people are housed. He said immediate needs included water, bedding, respiratory equipment and supplies, and sanitary products for babies, the elderly and women.

“Other islands are offering accommodations but requiring vaccination first. Most people in the rural north have been vaccine sceptical. This will complicate matters tremendously, and likely lead to big outbreaks.

Gonsalves also said infrastructural damage, so far, has not been as bad as feared.

“Not a great deal of lava flow in the direction of villages, just ash and rocks. A number of homes have been destroyed, under the weight of ash or reported small fires ignited by hot projectiles.

“(There was also) minor damage by rocks ejected from the volcano. However, most crops on island will be lost, and untold livestock.”

He said there was “tremendous volunteerism and solidarity across SVG,” with “many people are helping in myriad ways.”

Reference