St. Vincent & Grenadines + 3 more

Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and surrounding countries: La Soufrière Volcanic - Operation Update no. 2 (MDRVC005)


GLIDE n° VO-2021-000034-VCT


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 persisted with the increased rainfall.

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 them. In Grenada, the government had accepted to receive a maximum of 1,600 evacuees. 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 23,400 people were displaced to the southern end of St Vincent and the Grenadine and some neighbouring countries. They were originally received in 85 government-run formal collective shelters (4,417 persons) and informal collective shelters like hotels and rented residences. Many are private homes hosted by family and friends (18,927 persons). Unfortunately, the data provided by NEMO was not desegregated, making the identification of more specific needs of the population more difficult without further inquiry. These numbers were challenging to track at the onset of the disaster with multiple registration sources but have since been centralized, verified, and corrected by the Ministry of National Mobilization and NEMO.

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 since the April 22 eruptions. Accordingly, school resumed on May 17 for students scheduled to write external examinations this year.

On 20 May, the Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines announced that persons displaced from most of the orange and some parts of the red volcano hazard zones could return home (except Chateaubelair and Fitz-Hughes communities in the Orange Zone). In addition, the community of Georgetown in the Red Zone was to be returning home by 1 June. However, access to the Red Zone areas north of Georgetown on the Windward side of St. Vincent remains hazardous, and the potential for injury remains. Residents are also asked not to visit the La Soufrière volcano.

According to the 31 May UWI Seismic Research Centre update, persistent steaming is observable from the observatory once the cloud cover is high enough. The volcano continues to be in a state of unrest. Escalation inactivity can still take place with little or no warning. NEMO is looking to re-establish remote sensors on the volcanoes to help determine the hazard and potentially open the last zones to returns.

As of 1 June, 72 collective shelters managed by the Ministry of Education (MoE) are still open (two of these are expected to relocate remaining families). The Ministry of National Mobilisation, Social Development, Local Government, Gender Affairs, Family Affairs, Housing, and Informal Settlement (MoNM), who manages all other evacuees residing in informal shelters and with host families, is facilitating the returns of families by providing food packs or vouchers, as well as transportation back to communities in the Orange and Yellow zone. Buildings, Roads, and General Services Authority (BRAGSA) is the lead agency to clean the ash load on public roads, properties, and facilities. Main roads were prioritized, then essential services offices like police, health services, and then schools. But work is progressing very slowly, and wind and rain often decontaminate areas though to be cleaned. Many families have visited their impacted homes and are not willing to leave the shelters because of the workload or damaged homes.

Assessment of the impact of the eruptions on neighbouring countries is still ongoing. Their preparation to receive evacuees was seen as a success, and fortunately, was not required. To date, St Lucia has 72 registered evacuees and another informal group (still being assessed). Barbados relies heavily on food production from St Vincent and the Grenadines, but this need may have been lessened by reducing tourism with the COVID travel restrictions. This will be confirmed in a future revision of the Plan of Action.