STATEMENT BY THE PREMIER OF THE VIRGIN ISLANDS, HONOURABLE ANDREW A. FAHIE
DURING THE SEVENTH SITTING OF THE THIRD SESSION OF THE FOURTH HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY OF THE VIRGIN ISLANDS
ON THE ERUPTION OF THE LA SOUFRIERE VOLCANO IN ST. VINCENT AND THE GRENADINES
Mr. Speaker, I take this opportunity to provide an update on the Territory’s Collaborative Humanitarian Relief effort to support the Government and People of St. Vincent and the Grenadines in the wake of the on-going eruption of the Volcano.
The La Soufriere Volcano which stands at about 3,864 feet, on the northern side of the Island of St. Vincent has been dormant for the last 42 years. Last erupting in April 1979, it began seismic activity on 29th December, 2020, with effusive eruption activity.
On 8th April, Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Dr. the Hon. Ralph Gonsalves issued a mandatory evacuation order for the approximately 20,000 residents living in the Red Zones, on the North East and North West of the Island, and raised the Alert Level from Orange to Red, due to the increase in seismic activity.
On 9th April, 2021, the volcanic eruption at La Soufriere escalated from an effusive to an explosive phase, firing huge plumes of ash and hot gas into the air. According to the University of the West Indies Seismic Research Centre, the first column of ash was estimated to be 10 km. Since then there have been a series of explosions, accompanied by ash venting episodes.
On Monday 12th April, one of the largest explosive events took place leading to the collapse of the dome of the volcano and pyroclastic flows along the Eastern and Western coast of the island.
A pyroclastic flow can be described as a fast moving avalanche of gas and ash which range in temperature from 392 – 1,292 degrees Fahrenheit. These flows rapidly charge down the mountainsides, destroying everything in its path. The continuing episodes of ash venting have led to the island being blanketed in ash, resulting in power outages and the contamination of the islands water sources.
The Coordinating Unit of the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency has been supporting the SVG National Emergency Management Organisation (NEMO) since 29th December, 2021 in collaboration with the UWI Seismic Research Centre to actively monitor the situation as it unfolds.
On Monday morning, my Government and I had to opportunity to meet with Heads of Government from across the region, as we received an update from the Executive Director of the Caribbean Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) and the Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Dr. the Honourable Ralph Gonsalves. We are advised that water remains the most pressing need at this time, as the Country is only able to access 20 percent of their normal water supply.
We were also advised that persons were reluctant to leave the island and be evacuated to other Caribbean islands, not being aware of what their circumstances would be on another island.
This situation is compounded by the on-going pandemic, as many persons in St. Vincent and the Grenadines remain reluctant to take the vaccine which was one of the measures put in place to manage the COVID-19 situation to allow persons to be safely evacuated to neighbouring islands.
There was a recognition that food packages would also need to be provided for the persons who are displaced, not only the persons in shelters but also persons who have been able to seek shelter with family and friends. In addition persons have been advised to stay indoors as the country is under approximately 14 to 20 inches of ash depending on the location.
I recommitted the support and solidarity of the Government and People of the Virgin Islands at this most difficult time and Government agencies are actively coordinating efforts with Members of the Business Community and Civil Society Organisations to take a coordinated Territory-wide approach to providing support to the People of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
The Ministry of Transportation and Works in conjunction with the Water and Sewerage Department will be coordinating the dispatch of Water Trucks filled with water, and water tanks filled with water on a barge scheduled to leave the Territory next week.
We are also looking into exploring the possibility of sending water in the holding tank of the badge which will be transporting the supplies. The coordination of the logistics around the dispatch of a mobile Water Desalination Plant is also underway.
We are coordinating efforts with the Ports Authority at Port Purcell and the Department of Disaster Management to ensure that the vessel can be packed and dispatched by next week.
Collection of Supplies on Tortola is taking place from 14th – 20th April and is also scheduled to take place on the Sister Islands. The vessel is scheduled to depart Port Purcell on Wednesday 21st April for Virgin Gorda, where additional supplies would be collected, the Vessel will set sail on the 24th for arrival in St Vincent and the Grenadines on the 26th April, 2021.
The Family of Rotary Clubs, the BVI Red Cross, the Lions Club, the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA), the Office of the Honorary Consul of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Association, and various Church organisations in the Territory, and the Department of Disaster Management (DDM) are all collaborating to provide humanitarian relief and support to our friends and relatives in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
The Rotary Family of Clubs in the BVI will hold a Telethon where the goal is to raise $50,000.00 in support of the relief effort beginning this evening at 7:00 p.m. Again, the Rotary Family of Clubs in the BVI will hold a Telethon where the goal is to raise $50,000.00 in support of the relief effort beginning this evening at 7:00 p.m. Members of the BVI’s Entertainment Fraternity in collaboration with the Lions Club and the St. Vincent Association are also holding a Relief Donation drive on Saturday 17th April from 3 p.m. at Pancake Paradise.
I want to take this opportunity to encourage persons to get involved and support the Relief Efforts, whether it is with a civic organization, or church group, or individually. Everyone is encouraged to make a contribution to the relief effort and share the BVI Love with our Caribbean brothers and sisters in St. Vincent and the Grenadines at this most difficult time.
Please note that sending personal packages is not encouraged, and will not be helpful to the overall relief efforts on the ground. From our own experience with a National Disaster, we know how important it is to receive help in the useful ways identified by the respective authorities.
In light of this, I want to appeal to persons who wish to make cash donations. The logistical arrangements of deploying cash gifts are much less strenuous than physical contributions at this time. This mode of giving would also go a long way in supporting the local economy of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
We are advised that the immediate needs are for water tanks, cots, drinking water, personal hygiene products, blankets or sleeping bags, respiratory masks and food items. The stated needs are expected to change as time goes on so persons are also asked to consider making cash donations.
We are also asking persons to donate to CDEMA and NEMO the two agencies spearheading and coordinating the relief effort on the ground. Persons and Businesses can contact the BVI Department of Disaster Management by calling 468-4200, again 468-4200 to get further details on how to give to the St. Vincent National Disaster Relief Fund.
I want to take this opportunity to thank all the persons who are mobalising support to assist this relief effort. We know that many of you are going through your own hardships at this time due to the impact of COVID-19 on our economy, so we are extremely grateful for your personal sacrifices, as we as we join as a Territory to extend our support to St Vincent and the Grenadines and share BVILOVE.
We will continue to monitor this situation as it develops and the BVI is standing by to learn more details on how we can further support in the weeks and months ahead as this is not likely to be a short term situation.
Little is much when God is in it and we know that in these Virgin Islands. Please continue to Pray strength for the Government and People of St Vincent and the Grenadines. People of the Virgin Islands repaying kindness, showing kindness and showing that we care has always been in our DNA as a people. After the destruction of Irma and Maria to the BVI, the Government and people of St Vincent was very helpful to us. Now it is time for us to lend our support in their time of urgent need.
Thank you Mr. Speaker.