Ash cloud arising out of an explosion at La Soufriere, 6:15 am on Friday 16 April 2021. UWI-SRC estimates the eruption column at roughly 8,000 metres high. The ash cloud was seen moving towards the west of St Vincent. (Image courtesy UWI Seismic Research Centre)
SHARLENE RAMPERSAD

As the MV Galleons passage was preparing to make its way to St Vincent and the Grenadines, carrying much needed relief supplies and a contingent from the Ministry of National Security on Tuesday morning, one woman boarded the vessel alone.

She was not a part of the MONS team or the vessel’s crew. Neither did she belong to the small group of Trinidadian journalists or medics also on board.

But Carla Questelles was a woman on a mission.

Trinidadian-born to a Trinidadian mother and Vincentian father, Questelles grew up in SVG.

She returned to T&T to work as an adult but would often travel between the islands to spend time with her only child, Cashany.

Cashany turned 16 years old last Thursday, one day before the La Soufrière  volcano explosively erupted, plunging the island into chaos.

Her birthday party was done virtually, with Questelles arranging for a cake in her favourite colours, pizza and KFC from her home in Trinidad.

During the party, Cashany called Questelles on video call, allowing her to participate in the festivities.

Although it was a time of joy, the year that preceded it was marked by trauma and grief.

Young Cashany was not only separated from her mother by T&T’s border closure but also her maternal grandparents, who had raised her.

They had travelled to the US on vacation but the halt to travel when the pandemic hit meant they could not return to the SVG.

In July 2020, her grandfather, Carlos Questelles was diagnosed with Stage Four pancreatic cancer.

Questelles and Cashany could only look on via video call as he shrunk from the healthy, jolly father and grandfather they knew and loved to a gaunt, frail shadow of his former self.

The four kept in contact through daily video calls. Sadly, Carlos died in the US on February 3, 2021.

Questelles and Cashany attended virtually, with Questelles presenting the eulogy.

Questelles told Guardian Media, her father’s death was one of the most difficult times of her life.

“We had video called him about an hour before and even though he was not able to talk, when my mother called with the news, I was shocked. I had to call Cashany and break the news. For the next few weeks, I would stay on the phone with her for hours, I thought she would not be able to stop crying and she couldn’t sleep… I was a Daddy’s girl myself, but she was very close to him,” Questelles said.

In the months after his death, Carla said she wished to be able to see her daughter again in person.

“We used to video call all the time and I would try to have movie nights, where we watched the same movie at the same time, but it was very difficult not being able to see her,” she said.

When she learnt T&T would be sending a contingent with aid and was planning on repatriating citizens, Questelles said she did everything possible to be on the vessel, so Cashany would not have to face state mandated quarantine alone.

“I was on the phone begging and begging, I said I would not give up. I couldn’t let her go into quarantine alone, so I made sure I was here. They called me late Monday night and said I would be allowed to go, I rushed to get a rapid test, pack a bag and get to the port,” she said.

Questelles’ bubbly personality kept other passengers on the trip to SVG entertained. She chatted easily and won the hearts of most who she came into contact with.

When the vessel got to SVG, Questelles was placed into the VIP area with the two medics on board.

The three remained there for about 24 hours until the vessel was ready to take on passengers to leave the island on Wednesday night.

When Cashany was able to board, Questelles could barely control her emotions.

She hugged and kissed the teen repeatedly, telling her, “I told you I would come for you.”

Cashany seemed unable to speak, as she wiped away tears.

As mother and daughter clung to each other, reunited at last, Questelles was already trying to figure out how she would get permission for Cashany to sit her CXC exams in Trinidad.

But as more T&T nationals boarded the vessel to return home, Questelles volunteered to assist the two medics on board by handing out meals and bottles of water.

Currently, mother and daughter are in state quarantine where they are expected to remain for the next 14 days.

VOLCANO UPDATE:

At 6:15 am on Friday 16 April 2021, the La Soufrière volcano on St Vincent had another major explosive eruption, which produced another major ash cloud. The ash cloud was seen moving towards the west of St Vincent. Scientists at the UWI Seismic Research Centre estimate this eruption column was roughly 8,000 metres high.  They report that seismic activity at La Soufrière continues as before with a near-constant swarm of long-period and hybrid earthquakes.