Bad in the Short-Term

Watching the news, and seeing the pictures, it is starting to become unreal to try and imagine life on St Vincent.

Yesterday, for example they had muddy rain. Can you imagine? Rain that doesn’t clean things up but, because it is mixing with the ash in the atmosphere, rains down as mud.

And the ash itself. It looks more like a layer of concrete. As it falls and becomes wet, it sticks to surfaces and glues to everything. I stared at a selection of vegetation on normally lush St Vincent yesterday with increasing horror. This isn’t good – in the short term.

That’s what Professor Richard Robertson says. Alongside the actual volcano, La Soufrière, Prof Robertson is emerging as one of the main characters in this eruption.

St Vincentian himself, he lived through the 1979 eruption as a boy, helping to clear up the island as a volunteer cadet. The experience propelled him towards a career in vulcanology. He has since run the University of West Indies Seismic Research Centre, conducted his own research overseas, particularly in the U.K., worked with countless experts and academics in his field.

When the volcano first erupted on Friday, Prof Robertson and his team were right there on the ground. He is heading up the collection of data from St Vincent’s volcano observatory, and releasing public information – including Thursday’s red alert which got so many people out of harm’s way. He called the volcanic explosion, and now carries on working to protect his people.

But it is getting scary. Prof Robertson himself said that the volcano seems unlikely to stop venting – and could get even worse in the coming weeks. He released the pictures I saw of the vegetation on the island. Everything is covered in ashy cement.

‘Bad in the short-term, but good in the long-term,’ he wrote in the caption. The coming agricultural crops may not make it, but when things settle down, this falling ash is going to make the most amazing fertiliser, I think he means. Ok. There’s a long-view.

Another unexpected character in this eruption is Barbados. They sent a couple of cruise ships and probably hoped to be done with it. After all, the trade winds don’t blow their way from St Vincent, but from them to the volcanic island. Not many people (with the likely exception of Prof Robertson) realised this didn’t matter a hoot.

Once the volcanic cloud reached the upper atmosphere, it turns out these winds travel the opposite way to the trades – directly towards Barbados. A hundred-miles away, Barbados is also now suffering with copious ash-fall and sulphuric emissions. Locals are starting to talk about needing their cruise ships back – so they can escape.

It must be scary if you are on either of these islands right now. St Vincent has no water supply, and intermittent power. They have natural springs of water if you can access them, but bottled water has sold out. Barbados meanwhile, has gone back into strict lockdown and closed all their retail shops for people’s health. The sky has gone dark and the ash continues to fall like tropical snow.

But for how long? Prof Robertson and his colleagues say for possible weeks to come. It is indeed looking bad in the short-term.

St. Vincent (April 10, 12:10am) – SAR satellites see through miles of volcanic ash and smoke plumes to capture a 3D image the crater lake atop #LaSoufriere #volcano. 📷: @capellaspace

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