Guyanese in SVG prefer to ‘ride out the storm’   

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…some 26 signaled interest in returning home   

By Svetlana Marshall

Latoya Blair

Hard-hit by the continuous eruption of the La Soufrière Volcano in St Vincent and the Grenadines, which has resulted in significant ash fall, approximately 26 Guyanese have signaled their willingness to return home but the majority is hoping to ‘ride out the storm.’

Ashanti Burnett

Though silent since 1979, the 4,000 feet tall La Soufrière Volcano began spewing smoke and rumbling in December, before erupting on Friday, April 9. The explosions have resulted in significant ash fall, forcing between 16,000 and 20,000 people to evacuate their homes, including Guyanese. The volcanic activity has also caused power cuts and disruption to water supply.

Ashanti Burnett – a Guyanese who resides in Kingstown, the capital of St Vincent and the Grenadines – is weighing her options. “Returning to Guyana is something my husband and I have discussed since I am asthmatic, and the effects of the ash/dust will last a while, we are just trying to figure out what we will do with all of our furniture, etc, selling would be hard in a time like this and I am not certain about shipping,” Burnett told the Village Voice Newspaper, during an interview.

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Burnett, who has been living in St. Vincent and the Grenadines for approximately six years, was not required to evacuate since she lives in the Green (Low Hazard) Zone. But the experience, she said, has been nerve-racking.

“Putting into words the fear of the eruptions would be hard, but it’s not a good feeling at all, so much uncertainty, confusion, sadness, etc. Uncertainty because no one know if things will continue to get worse or when it will stop erupting, confusion because so many persons had to leave suddenly, the evacuation order should have been earlier (my opinion), sadness because its difficult at the shelters the dust is so much, it burns the skin and it irritates the eye and nose, there is no running water, limited mattress to sleep on, limited clothes, personal hygiene kits, etc. It’s just too much,” she told this publication.

Burnett and her family lost access to running water since the first day of the eruptions, Friday, April 9.

“Fortunately for me, I filled up a few barrels ahead of time and bought a few bottles of water for drinking, which is running low, so that would be an immediate need very soon,” she said.

At the time of the interview on Thursday (April 15), Burnett was trying to source water to purchase.

Burnett has also been in contact with Guyana’s Honorary Consul to St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Nigel Russell, who has assured that relief items, including water, would be arriving in the country soon from Guyana.

A Guyanese mother of two children – ages 16 and 10 – who resides in Barroullie in the north leeward, told Village Voice News that though being in the Yellow Zone, she has not evacuated.

A gigantic plume of ash emanating from the La Soufriere Volcano. The photo was taken from Ashanti Burnett’s backyard.

“We didn’t have to move but we knew that we would have been affected [but we] didn’t expect [it to be] this bad. Right now [we have] no water. I sent someone to buy water on Monday and Tuesday they only got one case and it’s almost done,” the woman told this publication.

The woman, who asked to remain anonymous, said while she would like to return home with her children, she has no house or land in Guyana.

“I don’t have a house or nothing in Guyana. I have put in for land more 17 years now and still nothing. I moved back to Guyana in 2012 and I again put in for land the lady saw my name and how long I have apply but I’m still waiting,” she explained.

She said while her family in Guyana would accommodate her, she could not be sure for how long, taking into consideration she has two children. “Everyone is telling us to leave the island but how long can we stay at them and eating and drinking every day…..They have bills and family too,” she posited.

Latoya Blair, a 33-year-old Guyanese who has been living in St. Vincent and the Grenadines for 15 years, also told Village Voice Newspaper of her experience. “I’m living in Villa it falls under the Green Zone. There’s no evacuation in our area [but] the experience is overwhelming. It gets a bit scarier with every explosion…we have access to water but not drinking water,” Blair detailed.

Like the other families, Blair is also weighing her options. “I have been thinking about whether or not I want to go home to Guyana…for now not really but if things get any worse yes I would love to leave,” she told this publication.

THE QUEST TO RETURN HOME  

Russell, who became Guyana’s first Honorary Consul to St. Vincent and the Grenadines in 2017, has been on the ground providing much needed assistance to Guyanese living in the volcano affected country.

He said the Consulate has been working closely with Guyana’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation to bring relief to the affected, and also to put arrangements in place for Guyanese who are desirous of being repatriated.

Ash plumes billow out from the La Soufrière volcano in St. Vincent and the Grenadines on 13th April (Navin Pato Patterson’s photo sourced from UN website)

In an interview with the Village Voice Newspaper, Russell said approximately 26 Guyanese living in St. Vincent and the Grenadines have informed the Consulate that they would like to return home.

With the country’s airports closed, Russell said the Guyanese Government is exploring other avenues to have their nationals return home safely. He said as the Government works out the logistics, he is acquiring important information to allow for a smooth transition.

“Foreign Affairs has said that it is being worked on right now…In the meantime I have been asked to register people, get some information where they intend to go and live in Guyana, what would be their support mechanism in Guyana so I can pass them unto the Ministry of Foreign Affairs,” the Honorary Consul said.

RELIEF  

That aside, Russell said the Consulate is working with the Foreign Affairs Ministry to coordinate relief for those Guyanese who are running short of essential items such as water. He has also been contact with President Irfaan Ali and Vice President, Bharrat Jagdeo.

At the time of the interview on Thursday (April 15), the first shipment from Guyana had not arrived in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, however, Russell said it was expected within a day or two.

“Water is a very big need right now here. We are expecting quite a lot of water, we are expecting the hurricane masks, hurricane goggles, which is primary for what we need to do, because we need to get people into the field,” he posited.

In a statement on Thursday (April 15), the Office of the President announced that the second shipment of relief supplies was sent off.

“The Civil Defence Commission (CDC) and Banks DIH have loaded a 20ft container with 800 cases of Tropical Mist water, 1152 cases of Rainforest Water and 400 cases of Aqua Mist water, which is ready to be shipped to St Vincent and the Grenadines. This second shipment will be sent via Tropical Shipping today,” the Office of the President said.

A third vessel was scheduled to be loaded on Saturday (April 17) with more supplies to the volcano-affected islands.  The first shipment was sent earlier that week via a private vessel called ‘Miss Meena.’ It contained over 300 tons of relief items, including 100 tons of rice, and would be the first shipment to arrive in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

In addition to Banks DIH, Demerara Distillers Limited (DDL) is providing humanitarian aid to the value of $13.3M. Kissoon’s Furniture and the Digicel Group are among corporate entities that have joined in the regional effort to provide support to the affected.

Once the shipments arrive, Russell said the Consulate will be doing an inventory, and would immediately commence the distribution of the essential items with the help of the Guyanese Association of St Vincent and the Grenadines.

THE REGISTER  

Russell, who has been living in St. Vincent and the Grenadines for more than 30 years, said the Consulate has been proactive. He said since the establishment of the Office of the Honorary Consul in 2017, a register with the names of Guyanese living in St. Vincent and the Grenadines was created as part of its primary function.

Cognizant of the effects an active volcano can have on a population, Russell said the Office of the Honorary Consul, from as early as December, 2020, began an aggressive awareness campaign, in collaboration with the Guyanese Association of St Vincent and the Grenadines, aimed at edifying Guyanese on emergency measures to be taken during the eruptions, building contact and providing support.

Guyana’s Honorary Consul to St. Vincent and the Grenadines

“As early as December, we began doing our normal television programmes, sending out press releases, encouraging Guyanese to provide their information. Can you let us know where you are? If you have changed your residence in the last year or six months; if you will be moving from the red and the orange zones, which zone are you going to live?” he detailed.

The awareness programmes and outreaches, he says, are continuing. Since April 7, more than 110 Guyanese have registered with the Consulate, taking he overall total to well over 200.

Russell said though the number of Guyanese living in St Vincent and the Grenadines is significantly higher than those registered, he is pleased that Guyanese are reaching out to the Consulate.

According to him, Guyanese who were residing in the Red (Very High Hazard) and Orange (High Hazard) Zones have been safely evacuated to the Green Zone.  “All of those persons have moved from the Red and Orange Zones into the Green Zone. So there is no one there in the Red or Orange Zone,” the Honorary Consul said.

He said Guyanese, like himself, who live in the Green Zone have been accommodating their fellow nationals, who were forced to evacuate.

“Based on my information, we do not have on record any Guyanese in shelters. We have 89 active shelters right now in St. Vincent, 89 operational shelters; I have not found any Guyanese there,” he posited.

The Consulate has also coordinated with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in St. Vincent and the Grenadines to offer psychosocial support to Guyanese. “We have asked the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of St. Vincent to make available to us counsellors to help people who need psycho-social support because not everyone can cope with this,” he said.

THE DOMINO EFFECT  

Banks DIH Limited teamed up with the Civil Defence Commission (CDC) to send more than 2,000 cases of water to St Vincent and the Grenadines

According to the United Nations (UN), islands in close proximity to St. Vincent and the Grenadines, such as Barbados, St. Lucia and Grenada, have also been affected by the ash fall.

Reports coming out of Barbados, indicate that in the early days of the eruption, gigantic plumes of ash from the La Soufriere Volcano dumped tons of Sulphur-laden dust throughout the island.

Jacqueline Marshall, a Guyanese mother of one who resides in Barbados, told Village Voice News that coping with both the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) pandemic and the ash fall from volcano has been quite a struggle.

“Most Guyanese residing in Barbados are either self-employed or working with the private sector, this ash fall coupled with the 2 lockdowns so far really placed tremendous financial as well as mental pressure on Guyanese in Barbados. Trying to go about one’s daily lives over the last few days isn’t easy to maneuver but we are a resilient people and we’re fighting the good fight….keeping the faith regardless,” she told this newspaper.

According to UWI Seismic Research Centre, as of 18:00hrs on April 15, seismic activity at La Soufrière has changed its pattern. “The last of a series of bands of tremor ended at about 5:40 am and, unlike all the previous bands, had no strong venting or explosive activity associated with it,” the centre explained. It has now recorded a near constant swarm of long-period and hybrid earthquakes, with three brief episodes of low-level tremor each lasting less than 30 minutes.



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