Harmon asks govt to accommodate volcano-affected Vincentians; several Caribbean islands taking in evacuees

Last Updated on Friday, 9 April 2021, 13:04 by Denis Chabrol

Opposition Leader Joseph Harmon on Friday said his A Partnership for National Unity (APNU+AFC) coalition would support national initiatives to bring relief to volcano-affected residents of St Vincent and even take in some evacuees if necessary.

“We urge, that if it becomes necessary, the PPP regime puts suitable measures in place to accommodate Vincentians in Guyana who need to be evacuated and relocated,” said Mr. Harmon in a statement.

There were no immediate reports of casualties, but the National Emergency Management Organisation (NEMO) said on Twitter at about noon that, “”evacuation of people in the red and orange zones to safe areas continues in earnest. Heavy ash fall has halted the process somewhat since visibility is extremely poor. NEMO continues to respond to the many challenges of the process.”

St. Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister, Dr. Ralph Gonsalves has estimated that there were about 20,000 residents in the red zone.

Mr. Harmon pledged to support Guyana government relief efforts for Vincentians. “. The Opposition stands ready to support appropriate and necessary national initiatives and measures to provide assistance to the people of St Vincent who are affected and are being evacuated to safer locations,” he said.

President Irfaan Ali said Thursday night that he was awaiting a list of needs from Dr. Gonsalves before beginning a national drive to kick-start a relief response effort.

Dr. Gonsalves  said since the evacuation order was issued Thursday afternoon, about 4,500 persons have fled by buses, boats and private transportation. Based on figures provided by the state-run National Emergency Management Organisation (NEMO), he said about 2,000 persons were now housed in shelters.

The Vincentian leader acknowledged that housing the sick, elderly and shut-ins in hotels and guest houses would increase the cost of the evacuation operations but he wanted to ensure that they were properly accommodated. ” It will cost more money but I don’t want the operation to be run as penny-pinching NGO operation,” he said.

Dr. Gonsalves said the Prime Minister of Dominica, Grenada,  and Antigua and Barbuda would be ready by Sunday or Monday to receive evacuees in their countries and place them in already closed hotels and guest houses in those countries.

He said at least two cruise ships have already docked at St Vincent to take evacuees who must be tested and vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus.

The Prime  Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines said he also planned to hold similar discussions with the Prime Ministers of St. Lucia, and St. Kitts and Nevis about extending similar accommodation to voluntary evacuees.

Vice Chancellor of the University of the West Indies, Professor Hillary Beckles, according to Dr. Gonsalves, has offered to allow students to go to campuses and continue to study virtually.

Dr. Gonsalves appealed to minibus operators to continue assisting with the movement of persons from  the red zone and to more comfortable accommodations.

Based on initial scientific assessments, at a minimum the recovery could take four months depending on the duration of the eruption.

The La Soufriere volcano rumbled back to life several months ago, having been dormant since its last violent eruption in 1979.