Long road to recovery for St. Vincent and the Grenadines two months on from volcano eruption - Voice Online

Long road to recovery for St. Vincent and the Grenadines two months on from volcano eruption

Many Vincentians who live in the Orange zone have returned, to begin the long process of conducting repairs to their homes.

Two months after the volcano eruption in St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) the road to recovery will be long, according to experts.

The La Soufriere volcano began erupting on April 9 and left 20,000 people displaced. The explosions covered the island in volcanic ash and ravaged the once lush and green Caribbean island.

According to latest updates from Scientists at the University of the West Indies (UWI) Seismic Research Centre – which monitors volcanoes and earthquakes in the Eastern Caribbean – St. Vincent remains on high alert despite the threat-level being downgraded from red to orange.

In a statement, Volcano-seismologist and current Scientific Team Leader, Roderick Stewart, said: “At alert level orange the volcano may resume explosions with less than twenty-four hours notice.”

Many Vincentians who live in the Orange zone have returned, to begin the long process of conducting repairs to their homes.

The St. Vincent and the Grenadines Red Cross Society is advising those returning to their homes to wear a mask, eye protection and long-sleeved clothes to protect themselves from ash particles – which can irritate lungs and skin.

Dora James, the acting Director General at the Red Cross in SVG, told the The Voice, things were moving in the right direction, she said: “We have a long road ahead of us, but we are resilient and strong and will get through this.”

Mrs James is an evacuee herself and is from the town of Chateaubelair on the north west coast and describes the current atmosphere “as a little bit settled.”

She said: “This is not going to be a sprint it is going to be a marathon. We are going to take time in getting back to where we were.”

“This is not going to be a sprint it is going to be a marathon. We are going to take time in getting back to where we were.”

She explained, some citizens have returned home to the orange and yellow zones. But those in the red zone are currently waiting for the mandate from the Vincentian government to allow them to return to the north of the island – where La Soufriere is located.

She told The Voice, the government are working on cleaning up main roads and side roads to help get the country moving again. When asked about the fundraising which has been happening in the UK, Mrs James expressed she was “eternally grateful to anyone who donated.”

Support is vital

“The Caribbean is one people and I was so proud to see the regional support and the support we had internationally,” she said. Despite all the donations, Mrs James said help is still needed and asked people to continue to support in the aftermath of the eruption.

She said: “Food continues to be a necessity, but many people are cleaning and repairing their homes now, so cleaning supplies would be extremely useful now.

“Things like wheel barrows and shovels would be great. The Red Cross will continue to provide items too and we are responding to the requests of the public.” She reiterated the resilience of Vincentians and said “we will get there.”

For businesses operating in SVG they are aware of the long road ahead, but continue to put their customers first at this difficult time.  

Katherine Joseph, is the Operations Manager at KOSCAB SVG LTD, who are the official distributor of all Coca Cola products in SVG.   Speaking from St. Vincent, Ms Joseph said: “We mobilised immediately and donated water and was giving assistance through the Red Cross and some church groups.

“Human beings are our greatest asset and we have to do our corporate duty and help in difficult times. The water supply was shut off during the eruption and our company jumped into action and donated water. We donated over 3000 cases of water and that is in one instance.”

Pictured: Katherine Joseph, Operations Manager at KOSCAB SVG LTD

Ms Joseph stated she has been in touch with her customers to let them know “we care and are here for them”.

She said in the days that followed the eruption, other companies within KOSCAB SVG LTD began donating supplies from neighbouring islands – with the first coming from Grenada. Help followed from Trinidad and a huge donation came from the Coca Cola Foundation.

According to Ms Joseph, another major fundraising drive was done in Puerto Rico, which saw seven 40 foot containers with water, food, supplies and clothing reach the island.

She said she’s planning ahead for hurricane season and has managed to secure 35 power generators, which will go to the shelters in the event the island loses power.

“We continue to assist the government of St. Vincent, the organisations and the people. In all we have done about $250,000 USD to the island and we continue to assist wherever it is possible,” she added.

Ms Joseph who has family from Georgetown –which is in the red zone said the area was impacted a lot and “is still covered in ash”.

SVG has experienced several lahar flows, which are violent mudflows. Currently, there are tonnes of fallen ash situated in the north of the island which is turning into hazardous lahar flow when it rains.

Describing Sandy Bay, another area in the north, Ms Joseph said: “It is now a river bed because every time there is heavy rainfall the remaining ash creates a lahar flow – which is like wet cement and it went straight through the village.

“It is literally moving everything in its path and it is extremely dangerous.” She explained there was activity at the volcano as early as November 2020, which put everyone on alert and caused a lot of anxiety.

“The mood of the people right now is mixed. Vincentian people are resilient and fight for what they want but some people want to give up,” she added.

All schools are online in St. Vincent at the moment, as many of the school buildings are full of evacuees and are being used as shelters. It is estimated there are 5,000 people currently in shelters.

Help from the UK Vincentian Community

The Caribbean community in UK have been instrumental in donating supplies and raising awareness about the ongoing humanitarian crisis in St. Vincent and Ms Joseph wanted to share a special message with those helping her homeland from so far away.

She said: “This disaster has shown me how great people can be. I want to say thank you to everyone in the UK who has assisted us in this difficult time.

“SVG is still a far way off and we still need the support.”

Ms Joseph said the generosity from everyone reminds her of her late Vincentian mother and aunt, who were known for giving whatever they had to those less fortunate than themselves.

She said: “For my family members in the UK, we are Joseph people and the national hero of SVG is Joseph Chatoyer and that says a lot in itself. Not only did my family help our immediate family, they went further to send care packages for people in the shelters. It was about Vincentians and no matter where you go you cannot take the Vincy out of a Joseph!

“I feel so proud distributing items to the shelters and saying this is from the Joseph family in England. So thank you all from the bottom of my heart and my God continue to bless you all.”

Pictured: Rachel Douglas’ team supporting the community aid effort

Ms Joseph said having to battle Covid-19 as well as dealing the impact of La Soufriere’s eruption, is proving challenging but said everyone pulling together is making a big difference.

“We are always helping each other and because of this, I am confident that St. Vincent and the Grenadines we will rise again,” she said.

“I feel so proud distributing items to the shelters and saying this is from the Joseph family in England. So thank you all from the bottom of my heart and my God continue to bless you all.”

Since the eruption in April, the Vincentian community in the UK has been concerned about the health and safety of relatives and friends. For one British woman of Vincentian heritage, she decided to use social media to drive donations.

True Caribbean spirit

Rachel Douglas is a Youth and Community Worker from Enfield, north London. She went to St. Vincent in October to look after her elderly grandparents but has stayed to assist in the relief effort.

The 26-year-old set up a donation link through her online business Acstoreuk – now Afro Caribbean Services SVG (ACSSVG) after friends and family asked her how they can help.

Pictured: Rachel Douglas, A Youth and Community Worker from Enfield, north London.

Speaking from St. Vincent, Ms Douglas told The Voice, she couldn’t just sit and do nothing as someone with Vincentian roots. She said: “I ride hard for St. Vincent all the time and I couldn’t sit here in this crisis and not do anything.”

Initially in the first few days, Ms Douglas said it was her partner, friends and her daughter who were helping. She said she bought items from local supermarkets and took them into shelters.

But she says using social media to document what she was doing, helped her to gain more support. “People were seeing exactly where their money was going and that is why they got behind us. Within a few days, famous celebrities from the African and Caribbean community were reposting our posts on their pages and this helped to propel us.”

Since going viral, Ms Douglas has been able to set up a relief centre and received a very large donation from Brentford FC footballer Ivan Toney.

She said: “The donation of Ivan Toney allowed us to open a relief centre for the next year and we are so grateful for his support.” Ms Douglas said it has always been her dream to study in the UK and give back to her mother’s homeland.

She is now building other initiatives on the island, which will benefit people in the years to come. She said: “I am setting up a foundation to help people not just now, but all the time. “It is important for me to invest in St. Vincent and to help build up the country.”

As of last week Friday, over 270 families have registered with Ms Douglas and she has been supplying them with food, toiletries and other essential items.

Speaking about the support she has received, Ms Douglas said: “It’s been phenomenal and I am thankful for the army of young people who are doing the drop offs.

“The community spirit here is amazing!”

Ms Douglas is in her third year of university and describes the night when everyone was evacuating as “something out of a movie”. She said: “Trucks had cows, goats and people with suitcases all on at the same time and that is an image that will stay with me forever.”

Pictured: Rachel Douglas and her team providing help in St Vincent and The Grenadines

The morning after the eruption, Ms Douglas said when she woke up and went outside “everything looked like it was in greyscale – everything was covered in ash and everything was grey”.

She said by doing her relief work this has allowed her to visit different parts of St. Vincent and see the full-scale of the damage done by the volcano.  

She said: “The atmosphere is terrible, because in some parts there is the smell of dead animals and stale water from the floods.

“But what is keeping us all going is the spirit of the people.”

Ms Douglas said one of the main challenges she is facing is some people refuse to leave their communities even though they have been severely damaged.

She said: “We are trying to get people resources so they can rebuild. We have already donated 20 wheel barrows to Sandy Bay and hope to donate more to other areas. We have set up a GoFundMe campaign to assist people in getting their lives back together”

“We still need building materials and cleaning products. We are here for the long run and we still need your help and it is not over.”

Ms Douglas said she plans to stay in St. Vincent and help for the rest of 2021.

To donate to Afro Caribbean Superstore LTD St. Vincent  GoFundMe visit: https://www.gofundme.com/f/st-vincent-community-outreach-center-svg?qid+7beb5f82c702fe8602be91d898d6e06f

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1 Comment

  1. | JackieW

    Well done to you all. Stay strong and keep safe. We in the UK continue to support you.


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