CONTINUING volcanic eruptions on the island of St Vincent, in the Caribbean, are spreading a plume of ash that, it is feared, could make large parts of the island uninhabitable.
The diocese of St Albans, which is linked to the diocese of the Windward Islands, of which St Vincent is a part, is sending money and emergency supplies to the island.
The Bishop of St Albans, Dr Alan Smith, said that about 16,000 people had had to evacuate their homes after the La Soufrière volcano began erupting on 9 April; ash was now covering a large part of the island. The volcano, which had been dormant since 1979, is 4000 metres high and dominates the island. Ash has also spread to Barbados, Grenada, and St Lucia.
Half the island has been designated as at very high or high risk from the eruption. Many of those who have been displaced have moved in with families in safer areas, but about 3200 are sheltering in churches or community centres. Many homes have collapsed under the weight of volcanic ash and falling rocks. There is no normal water supply on the island.
Dr Smith said: “There is such a thick covering of volcanic ash that there is a worry about what the long-term future for large parts of the island may be. The diocese is sending immediate financial aid and is also shipping out practical items.”
A large community from St Vincent live in in Luton, Bushey, and St Albans, and many attend Anglican churches in St Albans diocese.
Dr Smith asked in the House of Lords for government support for St Vincent. The Government has confirmed that it is sending £200,000 in immediate aid, and stands ready to offer further assistance.
The Bishop of the Windward Islands, the Rt Revd Leopold Friday, has also asked for aid. In a letter to Dr Smith, Bishop Friday wrote: “The ashfall affected the water source; so we have been without pipe-borne water for extended periods. The electricity supply was also interrupted for different periods in various places. The ashfall/lava stones have destroyed large areas of vegetation and agricultural produce. People are being housed in schools, churches, church halls, community centers, private homes, guest houses, etc.
“The Church is responsible for several emergency centers across the country, and there is the immediate need to provide for these persons and those in private homes and guest houses: water, food, underwear, clothing, Pampers for children and adults, toiletries, liquid soap, towels, sheets, medication, face mask, sanitizers, and addressing their emotional needs and more. In some cases, constructing temporary baths and cleaning up of ash, especially around emergency shelters.
“This is a long journey; at the moment it is not possible to do an assessment of damages to housing, churches, other buildings, loss of livestock, agriculture, and infrastructure, for the explosive eruptions continue.”
The UN has also released funds and set up an emergency appeal. Its humanitarian-affairs office said that monitoring of the volcano suggested that eruptions were likely to continue for several days.
Devastating volcanic eruptions in the 1990s on the island of Montserrat, about 250 miles north of St Vincent, forced two-thirds of the island’s population to flee. An exclusion zone remains in place for the southern half of the island.