All Guyanese in St Vincent are safe – President Ali

The grey ash from Friday’s volcanic eruptions covered the streets and houses in northern St Vincent
President Dr Irfaan Ali

President Dr Irfaan Ali has said that all Guyanese living and working in the Caricom island state of St Vincent and Grenadines (SVG), where the La Soufriere volcano begun erupting on Friday, are safe.

In an exclusive interview with this publication, the Head of State said that he has been in constant contact with St Vincent Prime Minister, Dr Ralph Gonsalves, while his Ministers are also reaching out to their counterparts in the island state.

“We’ve also been in contact with the Honourary Consul over there and he has assured us that the Guyanese over there are safe… He’s coordinating, he’s in contact with the Guyanese and he has assured that everything is okay,” the President related.

As it is, there are several thousand Guyanese in St Vincent and the Grenadines. Guyana Times spoke briefly with at least two Guyanese and they indicated that they are safe on the southern side of the island and that most if not all Guyanese they know are also in that area which has been marked as a Green Zone as of now.

When asked, President Ali told this publication that as of Friday evening there were no requests from any of the Guyanese in St Vincent to the repatriated.

Nevertheless, Ali, who had reassured his St Vincent Head of State colleague via telephone on Thursday of Guyana’s full and unwavering support during this crisis, pointed out that they have rolled out a national mobilisation plan to assist with the emergency needs of the Government and people of the island State.

“I met with Head of the Private Sector (Commission on Friday) and we’ve decided that we’re going to coordinate our efforts nationally between the Private Sector and Government. We have identified the CDC (Civil Defence Commission) as the focal point to coordinate all the help. We’ve received from St Vincent a list of the essential and emergency needs, and we’re working on that list,” the Guyanese leader indicated.

Mobilising support

In a joint statement on Friday from the PSC and CDC, it was noted that they are mobilising support for SVG, and are working to supply as many items as possible on the country’s immediate emergency needs list.

The 3rd explosive eruption is currently began around 6:35 pm on Friday (UWI SRC photo)

Among the items required are: 1000 water tanks (800 and 1000 gallons), 5000 buckets (5 gallon), 10,000 folding cots, 150 portable toilets, 30,000 blankets along with 50 field tents (20ft x 20ft) and (910ft x 10ft).

Additionally, two field kitchens, 3000 sleeping mats, 1000 respirator masks with filters, 25,000 goggles, 2000 reflective vests, 100 caution tape (100ft roll), and 10,000 hygiene kits are also needed.

Moreover, President Ali told this publication that in addition to this national mobilisation, they are also looking to establish a Disaster Relief Fund for St Vincent.

“So, all these efforts are being coordinated and being brought together and very soon, we should be able to put things together to send off to St Vincent,” the Head of State noted.

GBTI Relief Fund

Meanwhile, in a statement on Friday evening, the Guyana Bank for Trade and Industry Limited (GBTI) announced that it has established a Disaster Relief Fund to help the Caribbean island.

“We at GBTI are known for lending a helping hand to our sister Caribbean Islands in times of these disasters as the bank assisted Bahamas when they were hit by the hurricane. Once again, the bank has established a disaster relief fund to help St Vincent called the St Vincent Disaster Relief Fund. Persons who wish to donate can do so by visiting any of our GBTI branches and make their deposits to the fund…,” the missive from the bank stated.

The account name at GBTI is ST. VINCENT DISASTER RELIEF FUND and the account number is 011803403012.

La Soufriere volcano

At about 08:41h on Friday, the La Soufriere volcano started to erupt with ash plumes of up to 8 kilometres recorded. There were at least two other eruptions throughout the day – one at 14:45h (2:45 pm) which went about 4 km into the atmosphere, and the other at around 18:35h (6:35 pm).

The explosive eruption had put a significant volume of ash into the atmosphere. It was reported that the volcanic ash consists of fine particles of volcanic rock shot into the air during the eruption and prevailing wind conditions had taken the ash clouds in a North-easterly direction. Reports indicate that it could reach neighbouring islands including Barbados.

The grey ash from Friday’s volcanic eruptions covered the streets and houses in northern St Vincent

UWI’s Seismic Research Centre Geologist, Professor Richard Robertson, said during a Friday morning press briefing that the volcano had gone into continuous tremor overnight before starting to erupt.

According to Professor Robertson, while the first eruption was not a big one, more explosions are expected and these could continue for days and even weeks.

Prime Minister Gonsalves on Thursday evening had declared a red alert and issued an evacuation order. Videos circulated on social media showed evacuees with luggage treading through the streets covered in ashes with a grey smog filling the air.

During an interview on NBC Radio in St Vincent Friday evening, Professor Robertson urged persons to not be in the ash and to ensure that their homes and other premises are secured to prevent the tiny particles from entering.

“Lock up and if you’re in it, you want to cover yourself with sort of a mask – a dust mask is ideal but the mask that we use for COVID could also work… You want to not breathe it in and avoid doing that… It’s not going to cause you to sort of die but it could cause you serious health problems [especially] if you’re prone to respiratory problems,” he explained.

No fatalities

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Gonsalves during that same interview Friday evening that revealed that there have been no fatalities recorded from the eruption activities earlier in the day. He went on to urge citizens in St Vincent to be patient, responsible, orderly and offer assistance whenever they can.

“Let us all cooperate with one another,” he noted, while also recognising and praising those who have stepped up to the task.

“Our own people have opened their doors to their families and to their friends… Sometimes they taking people whom they don’t even know… It is the kindness and the solidarity and the good neighbourliness; it is as told in the New Testament. It is so heartwarming,” an emotional Dr Gonsalves stated.

In addition to shelters, there are also hotels and guesthouses that have been made available in St Vincent to accommodate those who had to be evacuated from the red zone area but persons are required to be vaccinated for COVID-19 in order to access these facilities.

Further, there are four cruise ships on the island to transport persons to nearby countries but they too will have to be vaccinated in order to gain entry into those nations.

The St Vincent PM implored the citizens on the island to ensure they adhere to the COVID-19 protocols amidst the natural disaster.

“This is at the time of COVID and we have to protect each other’s health,” he stressed.

Lightning was seen in the ash column due to its highly charged nature Friday night (UWI SRC photo)

According to the University of West Indies (UWI) Seismic Research Centre in an update at 20:00h on Friday, lightning could be seen in the ash column due to its highly charged nature. It was further reported that thunder was heard, which is associated with the discharged particles in the eruption column. Scientists continue to monitor the situation.

The La Soufriere volcano last erupted in 1979 with no deaths or injuries since the area had been evacuated. However, a previous eruption in 1902 killed some 1600 people. (Vahnu Manikchand)