St. Vincent & Grenadines + 3 more

Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and surrounding countries: La Soufrière Volcanic - Operation Update no. 1 (MDRVC005)

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GLIDE n° VO-2021-000034-VCT

A. SITUATION ANALYSIS

Description of the disaster

On 29 December 2020, the La Soufrière volcano alert level in St. Vincent and the Grenadines was elevated due to increased volcanic activity. By 8 April 2021, the alert level increased to Red, with government authorities issuing immediate evacuation orders for nearby communities' volcanoes. On 9 April 2021, La Soufrière erupted for the first time after 40 years, sending an ash plume of 10km into the sky. The resulting ashfall was very heavy in the surrounding areas, reaching nearby islands and halting area air traffic. Subsequent eruptions, lava flows, earthquakes, ash plumes, and seismic activity continued throughout April. In early May, explosions subsided, but seismic activity and the risk of lahars remain.

Ash plumes and sulphur dioxide reached far enough away to affect Barbados, Grenada, and Saint Lucia. The falling ash has also impacted St Lucia, especially affecting residents in the south of the island. Residents of Vieux-Fort, St. Lucia, located near the southernmost point of Saint Lucia were seen on the streets, some coughing and rubbing their eyes. Simultaneously, several fishers in the south of the island had complained about how the ashfall had made fishing very difficult for them1. In Grenada, the government has accepted to receive a maximum of 1,600 evacuees2. The Meteorological Services Agency has issued a significant volcanic and dust haze advisory for the island in Barbados. Barbados also has experienced reduced visibility and ash deposits, impacting the communities' health and livelihoods.

An estimated 23,4004 people have been displaced to the southern end of St Vincent and the Grenadine and some neighbouring countries. They were received in 85 government-run formal collective shelters (4,417 and getting smaller), informal collective shelters like hotels, some rented available residences, and many are private homes (18,927) hosted by family and friends. The numbers continue to fluctuate as some areas reopen for evacuees to return and others move between formal shelters and private homes.

Regional travel was restricted, but limited flights have now restarted, although severely reduced by the area's ongoing COVID-related travel restrictions. The Argyle International Airport was reopened on Saturday, 24 April, to international travel. However, operations depend heavily on the volcano's explosive activity, which is still unpredictable, and the neighboring countries' COVID shutdowns.

On 30 April, the island of St. Vincent was further impacted by a tropical storm with heavy rain causing flooding on roadways, drainage issues, debris on roads, small landslides that caused some property damage near Kingstown. The saturated soils have caused river levels to rise and an increased flow of lahars (mudflows) in the volcano's vicinity. It is possible that as the hurricane season gets underway in the upcoming months, there will be an increase in the rains and perhaps more severe mass erosion events and flooding.

On 6 May 2021, the Government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines with the National Emergency Management Organization (NEMO) lowered the Volcanic Alert Level from Red to Orange, noting that no significant activity had been observed during the 22 April eruptions. This has permitted persons in the Yellow and Orange zones to return to their homes, except a couple of specific communities. People returning home are being reminded that escalation inactivity can still occur with little or no warning, and caution should be taken in crossing river valleys on the volcano due to the increased risk of lahars during periods of rainfall. As of 13 May, government shelters are reporting that approximately 30 evacuees have returned since the announcement. Many have travelled to visit their residence and then made their way back to collective centres, finding their homes uninhabitable.