Chantice and Darwin Bowens

Couple  Chantice and Darwin Bowens

ON a flank of La Soufriere volcano, young couple Chantice and Darwin Bowens, both 32, planted peas, sweet potato, tannia, yam, dasheen, vegetables, banana, plantain, mango and other fruit trees.

A nice walk from their home in the seaside village of Fancy in La Soufriere’s foothills, the couple trekked daily to their garden to work and take a dip in the cool, clear spring before they returned home at sundown.

Most of the residents of Fancy and nearby villages like Owia also planted the land or were fisherfolk. The garden was their main source of food and income.

“We sold some crops in the market and made castor oil and coconut oil from our castor and coconut trees which we sold,” Chantice told the Express on Monday.

It was a life of contentment, almost like paradise. The couple did not plan on leaving. Not even after the government of St Vincent and the Grenadines gave orders to evacuate the Red Zone area in which they were living after the volcano signalled an imminent explosive eruption.

Not even after the earthquakes they were feeling.

“Our village was feeling the earthquakes. We felt about 30 earthquakes last week Monday, which were getting stronger and stronger in the afternoon,” Darwin said.

“We had planned to stay home,” Chantice said. But it was by divine providence they were removed from the danger zone, she believes.

Last Friday morning, the day of La Soufriere’s first explosion, Chantice said she had “gut feelings. My stomach was hurting and I just could not eat and I said to my husband I feel as if something bad is going to happen”.

A short while later, someone left the safe zone further south of the island and went up to Fancy to help fix a vehicle that would take the Bowens out of the village.

“While he was fixing the vehicle my husband said, ‘La Soufriere has blown’. And that was how it happened. We were not going to leave but it was by the mercies of God that He got us out of there because as we can see now, it’s very dangerous,” Chantice said.

Garden destroyed

Leaving all behind, the traumatised couple went to the home of a relative in Enhams in the Green Zone.

Chantice wept as she related their ordeal.

“We had no intention to leave so had not organised food supplies. But God has been providing for us. A friend came and dropped off food for us,” she said.

Water remains a critical problem for all of St Vincent since the island’s water supply has been contaminated by ash.

“Our water is very low. We are rationing water to bathe. We can’t wash and we’re running out of clothes,” she said.

Chantice said she heard all their crops and trees in Fancy were gone.

“All the crops are covered by ash. We heard a little rain fell and the ash became hard like cement and buried everything,” she added. Bowens said if the deadly pyroclastic flows which began on Sunday from La Soufriere run through the river, it would affect the village of Fancy.

Heavy ashfalls caused roofs of houses in Owia to cave in, he said.

“I also heard there was one death in Owia. I don’t know what’s happening with the houses in Fancy,” he said. The couple said part of the road leading to their village has collapsed and it is now inaccessible.

Anyone wishing to assist them can WhatsApp them at 1 784-495-4097.

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