Following on the heels of increased seismic activity at the La Soufriere volcano and pursuant to the advice of the relevant authorities, Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves has issued an evacuation order. With immediate effect persons occupying premises in the Red Zone and in communities located in the North East and North West of Saint Vincent are being urged to leave these areas.
These affected territories range from Georgetown and points continuing northwards up to Fancy and from Chateaubelair out to Richmond on the Leeward coast.
“I want to urge all of our people to be calm. Do not panic, be disciplined, be orderly. The heads of all the subcommittees in NEMO [National Emergency Management Organisation] were at the meeting of the National Emergency Council and they know what they have to do. It is a question of effecting the plan,” PM Gonsalves said.
The alert level was raised to red from orange since an explosive eruption has been deemed eminent. Geologist and Professor at the University of the West Indies Seismic Research Center, Richard Robertson weighed in on the situation and reported that there was at least “6 periods of tremor interspersed by 2 hours, 2 and a half hours.
“The significant change since the last briefing though is that the last period of tremor was accompanied by periods of venting – gas venting; significant venting at the volcano where it looks like, for want of a better word, it looks like it want to clear its throat.”
He described the current activity as the final warning stage before an explosive eruption should be expected. “Right now we would not be surprised for example if sometime between the next 24 to 48 hours there are explosions from the volcano that are much more significant than we have seen so far.
“The pulsing is one thing but explosions is different. We seem to be clearly heading into something that might be explosive and therefore we need to take the necessary actions to safeguard life and limb.” Prof. Robertson further counseled.
Preparations are underway to transport evacuees to several CARICOM states including Barbados, Grenada, Antigua, Dominica, St. Lucia and Guyana. At least 2 cruise lines have offered vessels to be used in the evacuation exercise. Persons travelling to any of the OECS states may use their national identification card if they do not have a valid passport.
Host countries as well as the cruise lines have indicated that any person being sheltered must be vaccinated, Dr. Gonsalves also reported. “We are strongly recommending that you be vaccinated for your own health and for that of the other persons in the shelters. We don’t want to have an outbreak of COVID in the shelters.”
Guest houses and hotels have been streamlined to house elderly and disabled citizens with home help service providers at hand. And one locally available vessel was dispatched to ferry residents from the Leeward end of the red zone.
Meanwhile Finance Minister Camillo Gonsalves has activated resources lodged with World Bank to aid with the disaster management process. This Catastrophic Draw Down Deferred Option, valued some EC$54M, is to be coupled with the locally provisioned Contingency Fund; though PM GOnslaves warned that may not be enough.
“It’s going to cost a lot more money than both of those things but we have some resources to start what we are doing.”
Evacuees are urged to follow the established emergency protocols in their communities and also reminded to that all persons going to government operated emergency shelters must comply with COVID 19 protocols.