Guyanese in SVG are being looked after – Head of Diaspora Unit

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A thick layer of ash covered most of St Vincent after a series of eruptions from the La Soufrière volcano

Thousands of Guyanese who are residing in St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) are being looked after as the island continues to battle with thick layers of ashfall as a result of the La Soufrière volcano eruption.

This is according to Head of the Diaspora Unit at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation in Guyana, Rosalinda Rasul.

Rasul, who is one of the persons in contact with the team from the Guyana Consulate on the island, explained that there are just over 3000 Guyanese currently residing in the country – approximately 3% of the country’s population.

According to Rasul, information coming out St Vincent indicates that most of these persons are currently seeking accommodation in private homes and not in any of the shelters established by the SVG Government.

However, the Diaspora spokesperson noted that checks are still being conducted at the more than 100 shelters in St Vincent to ascertain whether Guyanese are seeking refuge there.

“But we know for sure they’re all safe, they’re all out of the danger zone,” she posited.

Rasul explained that there were roughly 1400 Guyanese living within the Red Zone (areas closely surrounding the volcano that have been evacuated) but these persons were relocated.

“Guyana’s Honourary Consul to St Vincent and the Grenadines has been working with Guyanese since December last, when news surfaced that the volcano has started to show signs of being active. And they started to make preparations and even as early as January, they have been quietly moving from the Red Zone area. So at the time the order was issued for persons to evacuate [last Thursday], most of them would have already safely been evacuated,” she noted.

President Dr Irfaan Ali has rolled out a national mobilisation effort to fulfil a list of emergency items that was been sent by the St Vincent and the Grenadines Government. He had indicated on Saturday that the first of many other shipments will be off within 48 hours.

According to Rasul, a vessel is scheduled to depart Guyana on Tuesday with these relief items. She outlined that while that first ship will be sent to the SVG Government through the country’s National Emergency Management Organisation (NEMO), Guyana’s Consulate there will also be getting some of the items to distribute to the diaspora there.

In fact, the newly appointed Head of the Diaspora Unit pointed out that while the needs of the Guyanese are taken care of as of now, they anticipate that this will not last for long as the ongoing volcanic explosions are likely to last for days or weeks.

As such, Rasul stated that she is constantly in contact with the Honourary Consul in SVG to ascertain what necessities are required by the Guyanese diaspora there. She further related that one of the items that they are looking at is special masks that are required to protect against volcanic ash.

The details of this mask, she said, have been passed on to the team that is leading the national mobilisation and they are hoping to procure this for another shipment that will be sent to the island state.

In addition, that shipment could also see relief packages specifically for Guyanese.

During a previous interview with this publication, President of the Guyanese Association in St Vincent, Gwyneth Cambridge had indicated that they are hoping that along with the emergency items that are being sent to the St Vincent Government that there will also be relief items for Guyanese.

To this end, Rasul noted that the team on the ground in SVG will know through their fieldwork what needs of Guyanese will pop up over the coming days.

In the meantime, several Guyanese have indicated that they are willing to wait out the natural disaster crisis on the island state. But the Guyana Government has already reassured that anyone wanting to return home will be assisted.

The La Soufrière volcano started erupting on Friday and heavy ashfall has left most of St Vincent and the Grenadines coated in thick ash and the strong stench of sulfur filling the air. The volcanic ash moved with the winds and is now affecting neighbouring islands including Barbados – which is experiencing the brunt of it – St Lucia, and now Grenada. Others are like be affected as the explosions persist.

In an update at 18:00h on Sunday, the University of the West Indies (UWI) Seismic Research Centre said seismic activity at La Soufrière continues with short episodes of high-amplitude seismic tremor, each lasting around 20 minutes and with gaps between them from one to six hours recorded.

“The episodes appeared to coincide with periods of enhanced venting or explosive activity. The background level of seismic tremor between the episodes has been increasing slowly since about 10:30 am (Sunday)… The volcano continues to erupt explosively with the production of copious amounts of ash. Explosions and accompanying ashfall, of similar or larger magnitude, are likely to continue to occur over the next few days impacting St Vincent and neighbouring islands,” the SRC said Sunday evening.

Meanwhile, ash samples have been collected to be sent overseas for testing to ascertain what it contains and how harmful it can be to persons.

However, UWI’s Geologist, Professor Richard Robertson, who is leading the response at La Soufrière, has previously said that while the volcanic ash is not deadly, it is not healthy and can cause respiratory issues.

Additionally, the UWI SRC also reported in its update on Sunday that “steaming” in the upper parts of the Rabacca valley was observed at about midday and the cause of this phenomena is currently being investigated.

Professor Roberston explained that they have received reports – and seen a video – of pyroclastic flows, where instead of materials (rocks, gas and other particles) billowing into the air it collapses on itself and runs down the mountainsides, destroying everything in its path.

“What that tells us is that in addition to the venting that is happening, these kinds of things can now happen and are beginning to happen which means that the volcano itself – Mountain Soufriere and any communities there, not only would they have had to survive the ash but now they have the potential of being destroyed by these flows going down the mountain,” he said in a Sunday morning update on NBC Radio in St Vincent.

The geologist explained that La Soufrière does not have lava but pyroclastic flows, which have a lot of boulders and clouds of “hot heavy wind”, can also spread into the sea and creates a foam of hot air that could burn anything in its path and even scald people.

With this activity now detected, both Professor Roberston and Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines have pleaded with persons still within the Red and Orange Zone areas on the island to get out.