Early on Friday, April 9, the island of Saint Vincent in the Caribbean was rocked by a massive volcanic blast. It wasn’t a surprise. La Soufriere, the volcano in question, has erupted five times since the 1700s and had been giving off seismic alarm bells for days. Evacuation efforts for the north end of the island were already underway, with several major cruise lines donating their vessels to help. 16,000 people were already evacuated. Those still in the danger zone on Thursday night were encouraged to move into government shelters.
The explosive eruption sent a plume of heavy ash six miles into the atmosphere and sent pyroclastic flows of lava, boiling ash, and acidic gas down the sides of the mountain. So far, due to advance evacuation, no deaths have been reported, but the air quality will likely have its own death toll.
Five days and a second major explosion later, La Soufriere has continued to spew ash, gasses, and lava. Most critically, the eruption has destroyed the island’s entire agricultural yield for this season and is burying its reservoirs in ash.
“The volcano caught us with our pants down, and it’s very devastating,” said Paul Smart, a resident of the north end of the island. “No water, lots of dust in our home. We thank God we are alive, but we need more help at this moment.”
Aid is coming. The neighboring Caribbean countries have all offered aid, with tiny Nevis pledging $1 million in disaster relief and Venezuela and Barbados offering humanitarian supplies. Most nearby islands are also accepting refugees. Of course, this is complicated by the pandemic – several nations will only accept vaccinated refugees.
The leaders of St. Vincent estimate that recovery will cost several hundred million dollars. But what’s needed first, desperately, is water.
“The windward (eastern) coast is our biggest challenge today,” said Garth Saunders, minister of the water and sewer authority of efforts to deploy water trucks. “What we are providing is a finite amount. We will run out at some point.”
Some point soon.