Caribbean: Unusual Volcanic Eruption
April 15, 2021
Last week La Soufrière volcano began to erupt with an explosion and forced thousands of residents to leave their homes. Yet, only people who received covid-19 vaccine would be welcomed to government-run shelters or allowed to flee the island and board the rescue cruise ships.
Last week La Soufrière volcano – on the Caribbean island of Saint Vincent (Saint Vincent and the Grenadines) – began to erupt and forced tens of thousands of residents to leave their homes. Yet, Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves publicly declared that only people who received covid-19 vaccine would be welcomed to government-run shelters or allowed to flee the island and board the rescue cruise ships.
La Soufrière, which had a minor eruption in December, erupted with an explosion that shook the ground, spewed ash skyward and blanketed the island in a layer of fine volcanic rock. When the volcano exploded on April 8, 2021 there were no immediate reports of injuries or death, however about 20,000 residents from communities close to the volcano have been told by the government to immediately evacuate their homes. Some prepared to stay there, while others were expected to board cruise ships and go to nearby islands that have offered help.
As people looked for a safer place, officials worried the pandemic could hamper evacuation efforts. Gonsalves said that people have to be vaccinated if they go aboard a cruise ship or are granted temporary refuge in another island or in local government-run shelters, and added that his country would be using funds from the World Bank to pay for some of the disaster relief.
So far, an estimated 3,700 people gathered in 84 government refuge stations in schools and community centers while others sought refuge privately. Those staying at the shelters were tested for covid-19, with anyone testing positive being taken to an isolation center. Prime Minister Gonsalves publicly declared: “We are strongly recommending that you be vaccinated for your own health and for that of the other persons in the shelters. We don’t want to have an outbreak of covid in the shelters.”
Neighboring countries and islands invited St. Vincent residents to take refuge, including Saint Lucia, Barbados, Antigua and Grenada. Last week Saint Lucia administration said that it was not necessary for people to be vaccinated to enter the country, but Gonsalves pointed out that they may be required to get vaccinated once they arrived at destination. He said: “The countries which will want to receive them – they will either have to be vaccinated here or there – because naturally, if people are going to welcome you at a time of covid they would wish you to have the highest level of protection.” Gonsalves also said that his country would be using funds from the World Bank to pay for some of the disaster relief.
Last week Carnival Cruise Lines had dispatched two cruise ships to take evacuees off the Staint Vincent island to neighboring countries. Carnival Cruise media relations department told LifeSiteNews: “Carnival has not made vaccines a requirement of this humanitarian mission. Government officials in Saint Vincent have offered to do their best to make sure all who board our ships will be tested and vaccinated but that is at their initiative.”
According to government, four empty cruise ships (by Carnival Cruise, Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Cruises) are ready to take evacuees to nearby islands, with a group of 136 people already taken to Saint Lucia. The small group was supposed to fly to Canada, but their flight was cancelled as a result of La Soufrière explosion. Gonsalves, however, said his administration might call off the rescue cruise ships since the vast majority of evacuees seem to be staying in Saint Vincent for now.
La Soufrière volcano is expected to continue erupting for weeks and months to come, and it could take up to four (or six) months for things to go back to normal. Most of Saint Vincent displaced residents have remained on the island and sought refuge privately – perhaps in part due to fear of forced vaccination – but they are at risk of becoming more and more vulnerable to the government’s vaccine requests.