Major cruise liners which profit from port calls in the Caribbean have sailed away empty from volcano-ravaged St. Vincent as most Vincentians made it clear they prefer to ride out the latest natural disaster at home rather than on vessels even as they withstood at least two massive explosions and heavy pyroclastic flows from the La Soufriere volcano this week officials said.
The major, mostly Florida-based cruise lines had rushed their largely idle, COVID-19 affected ships to St. Vincent to assist in mass evacuations of people in the dangerous north of the island ahead of the first major eruption that had occurred on Friday, the very same date that it last caused massive disruption and grief back in 1979.
Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves praised the cruise companies even though they had called on the island in vain, noting that locals had appreciated the gesture but chose to ride out the latest natural disaster at home.
“People seem to want to stay home. But they had that option, but if they don’t want to take up that option, fine. We have to make a decision sometime this afternoon, maybe early tomorrow as to whether we just tell the cruise vessels, the cruise companies, thanks for their help because people want to stay home rather than be evacuated to another jurisdiction,” he told broadcaster NBC.
The ships had the option of temporarily keeping evacuees on board or ferrying them to several neighboring islands which had offered to help but Gonsalves said the latter option was fraught with complications as authorities there had demanded negative PCR COVID-19 tests and even quarantining for arriving passengers. He said only a very small number of persons had opted to leave the island.
There were no reported deaths or serious injuries from the latest round of eruptions officials said.
As the prime minister toured state emergency shelters much of Tuesday, experts reported a massive explosion late Tuesday, following up on another that was recorded early Monday. Volcanologist Professor Richard Robertson said the danger is far from over and murderously hot pyroclastic flows are now heading down the mounting sides and into valleys in several directions, even reaching some local rivers and plains.
This is as Caribbean neighbors, from Guyana to The Bahamas, held government ceremonies at ports where hundreds of tons of relief supplies, potable water especially, were being shipped off to St. Vincent. Authorities there report a dire shortage of water as the system is down along with some parts of the electricity grid.
As La Soufriere continues to spew ash, host explosions and deliver flows down the mountain side, frustrated Barbadians are wondering whether it is worth the effort to continue a massive cleaning exercise as sooty ash continues to drop from the sky on an island 118 miles away from St. Vincent. Schools and some business enterprises remained closed up to midweek as staff struggled to clear away ash pile ups.
In Trinidad, meanwhile, the weather service warned locals that ash particles could reach the island by midday Thursday even though deposits might not be as heavy as Barbados. Weather experts in Europe also warned Spaniards to brace for ash falls by Wednesday as the flow was being blown from west to east. This is how it also reached Barbados, the most easterly on the regional island chain.
As ships from regional neighbors set sail for the Eastern Caribbean and as a 50-man team of Trinidadian soldiers and supplies boarded transportation to St. Vincent, cabinet officials are focusing on improving life and conditions in the state shelters.
More cots, food supplies and other basics are getting to shelters, Minister of Finance, Camillo Gonsalves — the son of PM Gonsalves — reported.
“I think that there have been tremendous difficulties, people have been displaced. People are worried about their homes, but the spirit has been good, and people recognize that this is an extraordinary situation,” he said as the senior Gonsalves appealed for calm. “All I’m asking is that everybody be calm, be patient. I know you would get frustrated, I get frustrated too.”