By Kareem Smith
A cloud of uncertainty – no less murky than the thick plumes of volcanic ash that have towered over mainland St Vincent in the last six days – now gathers over the future for thousands of residents who less than a week ago were hustled out of danger zones ahead of the eruption of the La Soufriére volcano.
After almost a week of daily explosive outbursts, many of the nearly 6,000 people who fled the island’s northeastern villages still have no idea whether their houses are still standing.
The unfolding crisis is further complicated by the fact that hundreds of displaced persons are now at the mercy of good samaritans and Government shelters with no word as to when they will be able to return.
Some, who depend on farming for their livelihoods, have been dealt a double blow from nature’s destructive force.
Jeanne Baptiste Adams recalled being paralysed with fear at around 4:30 p.m. last Thursday when a frantic call was made from Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves to evacuate her home in the coastal village of Owia as the volcano rumbled nearby.
As evening turned to night, Adams could grab only the essentials as she sought any possible evacuation route. Eventually, her son showed up with a van and hustled her and other relatives to safety.
Hours later on Friday morning, plumes of ash from the La Soufriére billowed high into the air. Persistent eruptions also resulted in pyroclastic flows through the rivers that separated one village from another.
“One of my neighbours told me that I had two small houses in the yard and those both fell down. I have four dogs and they are behind, but I don’t know about the main house,” the longtime Owia resident told Barbados TODAY.
From the home of Osborne Andrews in the safe ‘green zone’ village of Belmont, Adams revealed that she and her relatives have no idea what her family’s next steps will be.
“That’s very hard from my standpoint. I don’t know, it’s a very rough situation. There’s a lot of division with the rivers because those bridges have been separated. So I don’t really know. So if I can’t go back… and the government decides to give [evacuees] somewhere to stay, then I would be satisfied,” she said, struggling to hold back tears.
Flanked by a daughter and two granddaughters, she revealed that two of her brothers refused to heed the initial warnings to evacuate, coming face-to-face with the volcano’s destructive fury.
Adams said: “When I spoke to him, he said ‘the whole place is just dark and he couldn’t even see his hands and when they heard the stones start dropping, that is when he started to panic and decided that he really wanted to move. So when the coast guard went up there Saturday, they were moved.
“For me, I know I would’ve never wanted to be in that area because I experienced the 1979 volcano.
“1979 wasn’t like this and we didn’t get a warning because it happened on Holy Thursday night. We were inside and hearing things dropping on the roof and hearing things like thunder rolling, I thought it was rain, but on Good Friday morning, I saw all the ash on the ground, but it wasn’t plenty like this.”
By Thursday, the skies around St Vincent’s southwestern tip were clear and many were attempting to return to normal commercial activity amid a blanket of ash all around.
From the safety of his Belmont home, host Andrews noted that the looming crisis is now one of access to potable water as recent rains have brought ash into the water catchment.