A severe water shortage has hit St Vincent as that country continues to grapple with volcanic pyroclastic flows from La Soufriere.
A pyroclastic flow is a dense, fast-moving flow of solidified lava pieces, volcanic ash, and hot gases that is extremely hot and burns anything in its path.
St Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves yesterday described the situation as dire as the pyroclastic flows are more deadly than the ash, compounded by less than 20 per cent of water is available on the island as ash has affected the water supply covering the rivers.
“We have a big problem with water, we are probably now...less than 20 per cent of the capacity. The ash has filled up the rivers and the ash in the numerous catchment areas,” he said.
He said at present water is being pumped from an underground well and transported by trucks, adding that there are two water-bottling plants and one of them is in the Red Zone.
Water is however being donated from Caribbean islands, he added in an interview with Fazeer Mohammed on TV6’s Morning Edition.
Noting there has been a tremendous outpouring of neighbourly love, Gonsalves said the Galleons Passage will be arriving from Trinidad in St Vincent with food and water and about 50 security personnel.
He said there is no security issue at present but they have to be prepared.
Gonsalves said a vessel from Venezuela will be arriving in St Vincent today with 20 tonnes of food, water, a couple vehicles and personnel.
He said when the Venezuelan vessel unloads they are sending it to St Lucia to pick up water from Blue Waters.
“I spoke to my brother Dominic Hadeed and he had been in touch with (St Lucia) Prime Minister (Allen) Chastanet on the question,” he said.
He said another vessel will also come from Grenada with water, adding that Guyana is also sending supplies.
The prime minister pointed to generosity from countries like Dominica, Antigua, St Kitts and Nevis, Grenada, Barbuda and the British Virgin Islands which have prepared places to receive Vincentians.
“I doubt that we’re going to have many persons taking that up, we have to talk to cruise ships re-turning to harbour. I don’t know how much longer they can wait. People seem to prefer to stay at home,” he said, however.
Speaking at the daily news conference aired on state-owned NBC Radio Gonsalves also expressed concern about the water issues.
He said the water situation was also becoming a problem and that, in some areas, including the shelters, arrangements have to be made for adequate supplies.
“Persons who are not in the shelters in the Orange Zone are having difficulties in some cases with food and that is something we have to address,” he said.
Gonsalves described as a “double-edged sword” the situation that could prevail with the rains.
“The rain coming is kind of a double-edged sword. The rain, for example, cleans up Kingstown, areas in the Green Zone and the Yellow Zone and puts a damper on the ash. But what the rain does with respect to the water supply, it takes it longer for the system to be cleansed because the ash on the hillsides, when the rain comes, washes the ash...down into the catchment areas and into the rivers,” he said.
He said this would delay the full resumption of services.
Gonsalves said yesterday at 4.15 a.m. another explosive eruption sent pyroclastic flows from the La Soufriere volcano.
He said the material from the explosion did not go up into the atmosphere but came down on the rim of the crater.
He said the pyroclastic flows, fortunately, have not occurred where there is habitation but it is dangerous as it destroys everything in its path.
He said when the pyroclastic flow hits water it has enough energy to create ripples and it can go some distance and affect vessels and craft.
He said in the north-eastern zone of the island people were evacuated over the past three days.
However, he said that are a few people in the North East and West who are not leaving.
He said these persons are largely farmers and fisher folk and some who went into the hills to plant marijuana.
The prime minister also made an impassioned plea for assistance for the homeless as the authorities continue to put measures in place to deal with the impact of an erupting La Soufriere volcano.
Gonsalves said there were many homeless people living on the streets of the capital and urged members of the population to assist in their care.
“You know we have had a few of them around Kingstown and the ash would be making life difficult for them and it is an important category which has been identified and we have to take care of all human beings. But I would say to persons if you know such individuals, take them to a shelter, please. Help in that way, be a good Samaritan because a lot, a lot of people are stretched doing a lot, a lot of things. So I want to urge initiatives in that way also,” said Gonsalves, noting that the state alone cannot do everything regarding the disaster.
He said all hands must be on deck as the country deals with the catastrophe.
So far there have been no reported casualties as a result of the eruptions caused by the volcano.