A man carries a container of water in Questelles, St Vincent, on Saturday, during a distribution of water in the area. ANGUS CYRUS
Gail Alexander

Members of T&T Defence Force sail to St Vincent tomorrow on the Galleons Passage vessel to carry supplies and assist the eruption-ravaged island– and the vessel will also bring home T&T nationals who are in St Vincent.

This was confirmed by National Security Minister Stuart Young yesterday.

Foreign Affairs Minister Amery Browne also received a letter yesterday from Finance Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines Camillo Gonsalves giving a status report of the situation and what they needed following last Friday’s explosive eruption of the Soufriere volcano.

Billowing plumes of ash covered St Vincent– currently awash with it– also swamping Barbados, 118 miles east. The volcano has continued pulsing.

Young stated, “We will be deploying 50 officers of the T&T Defence Force to St Vincent and the Grenadines tomorrow. This contingent comprises of personnel from Engineers, Infantry/Provost, Medical and Logistics. They will be stationed in St Vincent and the Grenadines for two weeks in the first instance.”

“The Office of Disaster Preparedness and Management (ODPM), and the Ministry of National Security, has been coordinating efforts to collect supplies. These will be sent to St Vincent and the Grenadines on Tuesday and Wednesday. In the first instance, supplies comprise of water, food essentials, toiletries, hygiene materials, simple medical supplies and other items requested, for example, water tanks and buckets.”

The Galleons Passage will carry troops and supplies to SVG tomorrow.

Young added: “We will seek to repatriate T&T nationals from St Vincent and the Grenadines on Tuesday using the vessel and are currently making such arrangements along with the Foreign and Caricom Affairs Ministry. All nationals returning will be quarantined and treated in accordance with the Ministry of Health’s COVID-19 protocols.”

People wishing to donate items to St Vincent and the Grenadines should contact the ODPM or drop off items at the various collection points identified by ODPM.

“Government will continue to provide support and assistance requested and required by St Vincent and the Grenadines. Our prayers and thoughts continue to be with St Vincent and the Grenadines—we assure our brothers and sisters there, we stand in solidarity with them during their period of challenge.”

Browne said St Vincent’s water catchment areas are affected by ash and dust and he received an urgent request last Saturday for drinking water.

Trade Minister Paula Gopee-Scoon has been mobilising bottled water apart from what’s being sent over.

Browne said he’s in constant communication with the Vincentian Minister of State responsible for Foreign Affairs who’s sharing real time information on the island’s needs.

Yesterday, UNC deputy leader David Lee said, “We’ll do our part to send some relief to the people of St Vincent and the Grenadines, our prayers go out to them.”

Finance Minister Gonsalves: We’re covered in ash

Browne said St Vincent and the Grenadines Finance Minister Gonsalves (son of SVG Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves) wrote him yesterday stating the “explosive events are ongoing.”

Gonsalves said immediate needs are water, bedding, respiratory equipment and supplies, and sanitary products for babies/elderly/women.

Gonsalves added, “The island is covered in ash, from a dusting/few inches in the south to many feet in the north. Scientists’ predictions were very accurate. We managed to get the majority of people out of the danger zone before the first explosion… some chose to stay and only decided to leave once explosions were underway. Immediate evacuation was somewhat chaotic, but largely successful.”

“Conditions in the shelters are very uneven. Some are adequate, others less so. We were probably two weeks too slow in acquiring additional cots, so a few thousand cots are still in Miami awaiting clearance to fly down (ash has closed airspace) as such, many people are sleeping on the floor. That is slowly being resolved with donations and makeshift solutions.”

Gonsalves stated about 20,000 people will be internally displaced for up to three or four months.

He said, “Historically, the volcano keeps going intermittently for a couple months. So far, infrastructural damage isn’t as bad as feared. Not a great deal of lava flow in the direction of villages, just ash and rocks.”

He added: “A number of homes have been destroyed, under the weight of ash or reported small fires ignited by hot projectiles. Minor damage by rocks ejected from the volcano. Most crops on island will be lost, and untold livestock.

“The big immediate challenge is the comfort, care and safety of evacuees. COVID is a huge underlying threat given conditions in which people are housed. Other islands are offering accommodations but requiring vaccination first. Most people in the rural north have been vaccine-sceptical. This will complicate matters tremendously, and likely lead to big outbreaks.”

“Tremendous volunteerism and solidarity across St Vincent and the Grenadines. Many are helping in myriad ways.

Thank you for your continued concern and solidarity,” Gonsalves told Browne.

Barbados, which was plunged into darkness from heavy ash cloud cover saw slightly cleared skies yesterday, but still had much ash clouding its atmosphere.

At 3.30 pm last Saturday residents in Barbados’ North showed pictures of complete darkness.