Antigua and Barbuda commits to hosting 250 Vincentians

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By Carlena Knight

Local disaster officials could be gearing up to receive at least 250 evacuees from St Vincent and the Grenadines, after an explosive eruption at the La Soufriere volcano on Friday morning.

According to this week’s post-Cabinet report, the government has offered to accommodate 250 persons at the Jolly Beach Resort, if off-island evacuation is ordered.

A plan was said to be worked out in Thursday’s Cabinet meeting, which would include activating LIAT to fly the evacuees to Antigua. However, there is no concrete timeline for when this would take place.

In that case, the arriving Vincentians would be tested for Covid-19 and provided with masks and other protective gear to guard against the spread of the virus.

Additionally, the government is prepared to ship emergency items to St Vincent, such as: tents, blankets, packaged food and water purifiers.

According to National Office of Disaster Services (NODS) Director Philmore Mullin “everything is in place for the arrival of the Vincentians.”

The Vincentian government has stipulated that persons leaving the island must first be tested.

This is not new territory for Antigua and Barbuda as the government housed several Montserratians following their volcano eruption in 1997.

In 2017, post-Hurricane Maria, the government also hosted several Dominicans.

Regional emergency body, Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) has also pledged its continuous support for the Windward island.

Over the next few days, the regional body will be dispatching approximately 1300 cots from its sub-regional warehouses in Antigua, Barbados and Trinidad to St. Vincent.

According to CDEMA, the majority of the residents in the red zone have been evacuated despite visibility being hampered by the falling ash.

There are 62 shelters presently open which have over 2000 persons residing in them.

PCR testing and administering of vaccines to persons in those shelters is now ongoing.

Scientists at the Belmont Observatory confirmed the eruption at approximately 8:30am, with ash plumes of up to eight kilometers said to have been observed.

The country’s national volcano alert level has been raised to red and an immediate evacuation order was issued for persons living in the established red zone.

According to reports coming out of the country, ashfall has been recorded as far as the Argyle International Airport and has even reached the team’s observatory at Belmont.

Observer media spoke with one Vincentian resident – Vynette Frederick, who shared that there is a sense of concern being felt around the country as many of the residents were too young or not alive at the time of the last eruption in 1979.

“It is a time of great uncertainty in St. Vincent. I was two years old when it last erupted, now I am in my 40’s, so many of us are relying on the experience of our parents and grandparents to guide us through this, but there is just a high level of concern around the country,” Frederick added.

She also mentioned that the ongoing Covid pandemic has added to the increased anxiety by some residents.

Frederick also spoke on the state of evacuations within the red zone, saying there are concerns about some people who are reluctant to leave their homes.

“Evacuations continue, and so people have been coming out of the north steadily. I live in the south which is considered the green zone, but I have a family member, an elderly amputee, who lives in the red zone and part of the challenge was convincing her to really leave and that’s one of the situations I am hearing repeatedly from persons with elderly residents in the north,” said Frederick.

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