Antiguans living on the island back in 1997 remember the ash. Falling like grey snow. Covering cars and houses and irritating the eyes and respiratory systems. From the south-west the ash came, where the island of Monsterrat stood. Billowing clouds of ash darkened the skies like an overcast stormy day. With the ash came the Monsterratans, fleeing their erupting island, fleeing for their lives.
To the surprise of many, there are nineteen live volcanoes across the Lesser Antilles of the Caribbean. This means there are 19 volcanoes likely to erupt again. This is why the Caribbean is in danger of volcano-generated tsunami’s. We often forget about that risk because volcanic eruptions don’t happen regularly. Instead, our attention is on the hurricane season that threatens the region every summer.
In the last 100 years, there have been four volcanic eruptions across the Caribbean region. According to the UWI Seismic Research Centre, these eruptions are moderate compared to the major explosions of earlier centuries. The first, a ‘minor’ eruption in Soufriere in Guadeloupe in 1976-77 with a billion US dollars in damages; the second, a ‘moderate’ explosion of Soufriere in St. Vincent in 1979 with one hundred million in damages; the third, another ‘moderate’ explosion of the Soufriere Hills of Montserrat starting in 1995, with ongoing effusions that led to 20 deaths by 1997 and the destruction of the capital city Plymouth and the economy; the fourth and most recent being La Soufriere in St. Vincent when eruptions began on Friday, April 9th, 2021.
The Soufriere’s: Destruction and restoration
Of the nineteen volcanoes, five are named Soufriere - in Guadeloupe, St. Vincent, Monsterrat, Dominica and St. Lucia. Translated from French, Soufriere means sulphur mine. This sulphur is both destructive and restorative. In the islands of Guadeloupe, St. Vincent and Monsterrat the name Sourfreire is synonymous with destruction, loss of life and livelihoods. In the islands of Dominica and St. Lucia, Soufriere is associated with hot springs and mud baths that restore the mind and body. These are strong tourist attractions and help stimulate the economy.
Monsterratans remember the ordeal
Monsterratants around the world are deeply empathetic to the plight of the Vincentians of today. Their 1997 experience will haunt them for the rest of their lives. They will have memories of the putrid smell of sulphur, the sight of blackening of metal fixtures around the house in reaction to the sulphur fumes and the sound of pyroclastic rocks rumbling down roads. They will recall the fear and panic of having to leave their homes and grabbing their families to reach safer grounds. They have faced the saddening reality that things will never be quite the same when your country is destroyed and you have to evacuate and make a life elsewhere to survive.
Vincentians will bounce back
It is understandable why there is resistance from the residents of St. Vincent to evacuate. There is no guarantee that once you evacuate you can get back to your home at your convenience. Evacuation centres are full of all sorts of persons you wouldn’t choose to spend every day and night with. Young people mix with the old. Sleeping arrangements are nowhere close to ideal and privacy becomes a tricky situation. Concerns of where will the household pets go add another layer of stress to some. Add the threat of COVID-19 on top of all of that, and it’s a challenging situation for all.
However, all is not bleak. With every disaster comes an opportunity for reflection and regeneration. St. Vincent, an already agricultural island, may have even more opportunity to use the richness of ash for organic health purposes and bounce back in a way that further diversifies their economy. Armed with tools of technology and connectivity, they are more prepared to deal with this crisis than they were 42 years ago when the volcano last erupted.
Nonetheless, it is early days yet in this recent eruption. The region will have to provide support to St. Vincent in whatever way they can. For more information on how to donate from Canada, click here. firstname.lastname@example.org
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