Vincentian UW student calls for aid to the island nation

The volcano has been spewing high levels of sulphur in the air and waterways

La Soufrière, an active volcano and the tallest point in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, erupted on Friday April 9th. It had lain dormant since 1979, but erupted almost a year to the day. The volcano first started showing signs of activity in December. 

We have been in contact with Shanae Solomon, a Vincentian student enrolled full-time at the University of Waterloo, studying remotely from her home in St. Vincent. Our communication with Shanae has been sporadic due to intermittent cuts to electricity due to damaged electricity poles. Shanae is located in the green zone or the “safe zone” so did not experience the impact of the first eruption. The second eruption “was much bigger and the plume could be seen from neighbouring countries like Barbados.” 

Shanae’s main message is a call for aid. She says the priority for Vincentians is accessing basic supplies; this is what is needed from the international community.

“Currently, the shelters are overwhelmed and supermarket shelves are nearly empty. There are currently 3,000 evacuees in shelters. Everyone is donating what we can to each other, but it is not enough at this point.They are in desperate need of assistance,” she said.

Shanae identified bottled drinking water, non-perishable food items, personal care items (toilet paper, bedding), and first aid kits as priority needs. The island, which is home to approximately 110,000 has been receiving support from neighbouring Caribbean countries. Barbados, St. Lucia, Grenada and Antigua have agreed to host and are actively receiving evacuees. Other international allies have donated both in-kind and financial aid, with Taiwan pledging a commitment of US$300,000. 

There have been daily eruptions of the volcano, releasing ash and high levels of sulphur into the air and water catchments. The water supply has been shut off due to the levels of contamination, further compounding the water shortage as aid packages are slow to arrive. Air spaces with volcanic ash are unsafe to fly in, so much of the aid is arriving via seaport. 

Photo courtesy of Shanae Solomon.

“La Soufrière is known to have thick, sticky lava so we do not experience lava flows like other volcanoes,” she said. “Villages closer to the ‘red zone’ have reported up to two meters of ash covering the roads. Evacuation by vehicle was halted as roads were impassable. Several homes and buildings have collapsed under the weight of the ash and rocks that have been falling from the explosion.”

A video from iWitness News SVG shows a group of residents cleaning up volcanic ash and sharing their experience of living through volcanic eruptions and concerns moving forward. 

Fitzgerald Huggins, the SVG consul general to Canada has expressed his gratitude for aid received to date and has issued a call for further assistance according to CBC News. 

Locally, the Caribbean Canadian Association of Waterloo Region (CCAWR) issued a statement declaring their support and readiness to act as it “counts Vincentians among its members”. The statement includes a list of ways to support the local relief efforts in St. Vincent. CCAWR President Lannois Carroll-Woolery shared that the organization will not be leading any local relief efforts, but rather amplifying existing channels of support. 

It is unclear when the La Soufrière volcano will stop erupting and return to a state of dormancy. Volcanists predict that the eruption may last several days or weeks based on La Soufrière’s eruption history. Shanae’s parents and a close family friend experienced the 1979 eruption and shared that it took at least three months for any individuals evacuated from the red zone (the area closest to the volcano) to return. Seismologists have warned against comparing the two eruptions as indication of a path forward. The 2021 eruption has seen more ash fall and has also been accompanied by earth tremors more likened to the 1902 eruption which saw loss of life. 

Photo courtesy of Xtreme104SVG Radio.

The road to recovery will be a long one as the eruption has impacted the livelihood of the island’s residents. The eruption comes at a time when Vincentians, like the rest of the world, have been living through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Determined amid the disaster, Shanae hopes to complete the semester as planned. “I have reached out to my professors and most have been accommodating. Counseling services and the International Safety Abroad team have also reached out to me.” Shanae is pursuing Honours Science with minors in chemistry and biology. 

We have included the links to the relief efforts identified by the CCAWR below:

If you have family or friends in St. Vincent, you can contact the Canadian consulate HERE.


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