Despite an erupting volcano and an evacuation order, some Vincentians who live in the red zone around La Soufriere are refusing to leave. Three of them explained to Lyf Compton of SVG’s Searchlight newspaper why they prefer to risk a fiery death or arrest than to seek safety in the south of the island.
St Vincent: On a bridge in New Chapmans, three forlorn figures stand, looking at the peak of the smouldering La Soufriere in the distance.
“My family from this area, couple sisters and mother and father. All the houses in one area. So I decided to stick around,” Dave Sutton said on Sunday, three days after the erupting La Soufriere moved from effusive to explosive, covering the entire country in ash.
Sutton, his brother-in-law Terry Joseph, and their friend David Seymour have all decided to ride out the explosive volcanic eruptions in their red-zone homes. The men are protecting their properties and livestock the best they can.
On April 8, Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, who also has responsibility for disaster preparedness, issued an evacuation order for people in the red zone around La Soufriere.
The volcano has been erupting effusively since December 27 last year, but that same day vulcanologist Prof Richard Robertson, of the UWI Seismic Research Unit, said at a press conference that at about 3 am, there had been a change in the activity at the summit of the volcano.
The following day, La Soufriere blew its top, sending ash plumes high into the sky.
“I just decide not to move,” Sutton said, adding that this was his first experience with a volcanic eruption. He decided to stay behind to look after his cattle.
The 46-year-old farmer said almost everyone has evacuated his hometown, but he is braving whatever comes.
He said on April 10, around 9 am, he went into the mountains to check on his cattle, but the ash made it impossible to see, so he turned back.
At around 2 pm that same day, Sutton went back to the mountain and cut the ropes tethering his cattle. While he was there, the volcano started rumbling, which scared him. The eruption sounded like thunder.
“I hear the Soufriere start erupt again. I have to run down back, because was me one,” Sutton said.
He saw goats tied up, bleating, with no food, but did not have the time to cut their ropes. He said he did not think it is right to free other people’s animals without their permission.
Sutton said a shopkeeper in the area has also stayed behind, as has a businessman in Caratal, a village within walking distance, so he can buy supplies when he needs them.
Seymour, Sutton’s friend, said he stayed “to pay attention to my things, because of the way some people go on in a disaster.”
He said people steal and destroy others’ property.
“This is a very good experience for me; me never fear,” Seymour said.
While the majority of other residents have left, they return during the day to fetch belongings and check on their properties and animals, he said..
Joseph, the other man on the bridge, said he made sure his wife and two sons were safely out of the red zone although he stayed behind.
He described the experience as scary, especially the night of April 10 when he said there was “a lot of action,” when stones and ash fell on his roof.
“We had to run from our galvanize house to places that have concrete roof to shelter,” Joseph said of himself and his two friends.
They hid under a neighbour’s house together.
These three are among a group of people throughout the red zone who have refused to leave.
Their lives are in danger from the heavy ash fall and pyroclastic flows of lava pieces, ash and hot gases which kill and destroy everything in their path, even out into the sea.
On Monday the SVG National Emergency Management Organisation said on its Facebook page that anyone caught in the red zone without police permission will be “immediately arrested and prosecuted to the full extent of the law.” The post said this applies whether the person is a usual resident of the area or not.