For over two weeks, a volcano on the island of St. Vincent has erupted with unrelenting fury. Now, residents don’t even recognize their home.
“It’s like a desert, it’s desolate, it’s apocalyptic. The whole place is covered in gray ash,” Ralph Gonsalves, the prime minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, told CNN about the communities impacted by the eruptions. It’s been 42 years since La Soufrière volcano — French for sulfur outlet — erupted. The 4,094-foot stratovolcano is now making up for lost time, blasting ash and debris miles into the air and neighboring islands. For months, La Soufrière threatened to erupt and scientists warned residents to prepare to flee at any moment. The government coordinated with cruise ship companies to begin ferrying people from the “red zone” where catastrophic destruction was expected to take place.
Then, at 8:51 a.m. on April 9, the National Emergency Management announced La Soufrière had erupted. Thanks to the early evacuations, officials said, there have been no deaths or injuries reported as a result of the eruption. But more than 7,000 residents have taken refuge in government-run shelters and a greater number are staying with friends or family, said Gonsalves, the left-leaning, Bible-quoting prime minister of the island chain who goes by the nickname “Comrade Ralph.” With more than 10% of the island chain’s 110,000 residents at least temporarily homeless, the local government does not have the resources to address all the need, he said. “We are not able to do the humanitarian effort, we are not able to do the recovery, we will not be able to without substantial assistance from the region and the global community. We are really at the midnight hour of need,” Gonsalves said. As the volcano continues to spew ash and pyroclastic flow, a deadly mixture of superheated gases, rock and mud, the ongoing danger has complicated efforts to deliver aid.