June 14, 2021

Communiqué of the Emergency Meeting of the OECS Authority [regarding volcano in Saint Vincent]

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Ruby Robinson Commission Services Officer, Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States

Approximately, three months following its first Emergency Meeting on the situation with the La Soufrière volcano in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, the OECS Authority, Chaired by the Hon. Roosevelt Skerrit, Prime Minister for the Commonwealth of Dominica, met in an Emergency Meeting convened virtually on Monday April 12, 2021. The OECS Authority discussed inter lia, the ongoing explosive eruptions at the La Soufrière volcano in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and the regional response measures in relation to this disaster.

Chairman Hon. Roosevelt Skerrit opened the meeting by reassuring the solidarity of the OECS Member States with Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and emphasized the meeting look at the critical needs of the island as well as the ability of Member States of the OECS to provide assistance to Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. 

The Chairman reiterated the support of the Government and people of the Commonwealth of Dominica with a pledge to accept about 300 people in the first instance, covering accommodation and all related expenses. The support would include preparations to receive students who are to be at school.

The OECS Authority received a summary report from the Prime Minister of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Dr. the Hon. Ralph Gonsalves who extended heartfelt gratitude to the Heads of Government, Development Partners and regional agencies, for the solidarity and support which had been extended to the Government and people of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. He said,

There has been an outpouring of good Samaritans; the people have worked together in unity and of course the Caribbean family has responded in an amazing way. When I speak of it, my eyes well up with tears.” 

 

Situational Report

Towards the end of 2020, effusive eruptions began at the La Soufrière volcano causing gas, steam and magma to create a fresh dome in the crater. On Thursday, April 8, 2021, an evacuation order was issued for residents in the Red Zone located closest to La Soufrière in the north of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, which saw a large number of evacuees moving to stay with friends and family in other parts of the island.  Several explosive eruptions occurred on Friday, April 9, 2021, blowing the new dome and pushing bulk material into the sea and atmosphere, a situation which continued to date, producing several kilometers of columns of ash over the island. A first instance of pyroclastic flow occurred on Friday, April 9, however, at approximately 4:15 AM (AST) on Monday, April 12, 2021, an explosive eruption ejected hot rocks which flowed over the sides of the volcano at a rapid pace, towards communities and valleys. Fortunately, there had been no reported loss of life or injuries from the eruptions.

The Prime Minister reported that the island was faced with declining water supplies (the island’s water supply was at 20% capacity), dwindling food supplies, an interruption to the power supply and challenges in streamlining the distribution of supplies by the National Emergency Management Organisation to evacuees who are unregistered.           

Amidst the harrowing conditions facing the island, the Prime Minister reported there was a reluctance on the part of the nationals to take up the offer of evacuation to other islands because these persons did not want to leave their property and possessions behind; and there was hesitancy around the vaccine requirement. It was feared that the situation could be compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic, which the country was working arduously to manage. He reported that not only were persons hesitant to leave the island but hesitancy to leave their homes behind has resulted in the Coast Guard crews having to run rescue operations to retrieve these individuals. Prime Minister Gonsalves lamented that these rescues were putting the lives of the crew at risk because the Coast Guard had to operate along the Atlantic side of the island where the ocean was rough, compounded by possible compromise of the engines by the ash from La Soufrière.

Prime Minister Gonsalves concluded that in the north, 40% of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines’ agriculture was decimated, and income support, as well as infrastructural recovery, was needed immediately.  He asserted that it would take some time for the agriculture sector to recover.

In assessing the northern area of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines after the last explosive eruption, Prime Minister Gonsalves surmised

“The place is desolate.”

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