The day before the eruption

On Friday, April 9th, 2021 Saint Vincent and the Grenadines’ La Soufrière erupted. Gary Bynoe, a young Vincentian shares a 5-day journal entry of his experience. In this publication, Day One is documented.

First published on Wakonté Caribbean.

April 8th, 2021: Day 1. Panic, but don’t panic.

I double-checked one final time to make sure I had all of our customers’ orders ready before I left home. It was a sunny, yet mildly overcast Thursday morning; not that anyone cared to commit too much to observation because if you lingered too long on a blink you’re likely to bear witness to completely different weather. If I’m honest though, it was the balance in temperature that I really appreciated- especially since public transport was my only option and the COVID-19 protocols felt like it protected us to death. In any case, my earbuds made short work of the journey. Zoning out to moving images has sort of always been my thing. Living five minutes away from the nation’s capital, Kingstown, certainly added to the ease.

Exiting the minivan was also where I mentally began plotting my course through the backstreets and arches of Kingstown to optimize my footpath. Should I take the edge of Little Tokyo to catch the sea breeze and cut through the fish market, or should I go inland towards Bay Street? A familiar face beaming in my direction interrupted my cognitive plottings. Unsurprisingly, my brain glitched at pairing the correct name with the face, luckily “Bro” was an appropriate alternative.

The opportunity presented itself, and he instantly began gushing out information. He revealed that there had been emergency meetings called all over the capital. He was rushing off to one of them, too, apparently. He exclaimed that the volcano situation was now code red. Oh…did I mention there was an active volcano situation? Well, there is. NASA satellite images had identified a heat spike in the tiny, multi-island nation of St. Vincent and the Grenadines since October, 2020. From then, it had been closely monitored and activity was rapidly increasing. Weeks before, the red and orange zones had been experiencing tremors that grew even more frequent by the day; the last record showing up to 150 per day.

The news needed a minute or two to digest, but until then, I still had a customer to make a delivery to. I arrived within minutes and informed the relevant persons that I had a delivery to make only to be updated that my customer was in an emergency meeting. Well, that definitely drove it closer to home. After a few phone calls and conversations on the ground, I realized it best to be prepared just in case. So my next course was for the nearest supermarket. On my way I received a text blast that was updating the nation on the situation. It stated that we were at orange alert. Trouble is it stated that we were at that alert level at 12:15pm; It was 10:35am. There is nothing quite like a failed panic control attempt by the government to truly put a prep in your step. The irony of the situation actually suggests that the text blast was sent prematurely due to panic.

Within minutes I found myself triumphantly sanitizing my hands at the entrance of Greaves supermarket despite my mask’s best attempts to banish my air-intake. I scanned the nearby area while I applied the rest of the sanitizer to my hands and noticed that there wasn’t a single trolly in sight. The trolly area was completely empty. No matter, there had to be an empty one at a cash desk. I danced through the swarms of veteran and amateur shoppers alike and found a freshly discarded trolly. The sound of rattling metal testified of the spreading news of the alert as everyone participated in a shopping derby, striking off their amended lists while maintaining a forced calm countenance. In the end, our eyes gave us away. We were concerned.

Slithering through the growing uneasiness in the air, I made my way to a cash desk. The news of a red alert still wasn’t official but by the looks of things no one was waiting. I called ahead to make sure we were stocking up on more water before I made my way home and to double check on any other necessities. Finally I made it back. I discarded my mask like a free-diving athlete resurfacing for air. But the damage was done. I felt like I ran a marathon and I knew the quickest way to bounce back was to take a nap. Just before I did I distinctly remember hearing the Prime Minister’s voice on the radio attempting to convince the masses that it was not yet a code red situation and that evacuation orders were not issued yet and urged the public to remain calm as they acquired more information.

Returning from my slumber three hours later, evacuation was in full swing right alongside the shiny new official red alert. Social media was rife with criticism over why evacuations weren’t in effect sooner, arguing that sufficient information was available to make the call. Whatever the debate, there was certainly a situation at hand. The rush to vacate the red and orange zones made a clog of the roadway systems. Before too long dense traffic made it close to impossible to maneuver the thousands of persons fleeing their native villages to safety. The Prime Minister was forward thinking enough to make arrangements with the Carnival cruise line that had up to three of their cruise liners come to shuttle evacuees to neighbouring islands who committed prior to aiding the evacuation efforts.

There was a debacle brewing, however. The Prime Minister had made a stipulation that persons boarding the cruise liners had to be vaccinated. Well, let’s just say the public still had a few questions and concerns about that to the point where person’s refused to board if it had to come to that. This resulted in many opting for a shelter in the green zone instead. This was the first night.

Part Two is coming soon.

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