Red Cross members among a Trinidad and Tobago contingent headed to St Vincent on Tuesday expressed excitement and fear as they head to ground zero to provide humanitarian aid.
The La Soufrière volcano continues to rumble and erupt, with pyroclastic flow (fast-moving current of hot gas and volcanic matter) causing serious damage in the red zone. The incessant ash from the volcano continues to fall like snow and burn the skin on contact. La Soufriere erupted again this morning at about 6.30 am, 42 years to the day since its 1979 eruption.
Red Cross members are travelling to St Vincent along with 50 TT soldiers, medical personnel, aid and supplies on the MV Galleons passage.
Rhea Pierre, disaster preparedness co-ordinator with the International Federation of the Red Cross, Port of Spain, told Newsday aboard the boat that the decision to go to St Vincent was not a simple one.
"It's one of those things where you run the full gamut of emotions all at the same time," she said.
"You're excited, scared, you're cognisant of what is going on the ground, but it's one of those things – how do I not go? When you are called to serve, how do I not go?"
Ariel Kestens, head of the delegation from the International Federation, Red Cross, Dutch and English-speaking Caribbean, said the organisation is aiming to aid 100 families in shelters.
"Once we are on the ground, we will continue analysing the needs and start distribution. We have mobilised resources, non-food items: shelter kits, hygienic kits and water."
He added, "It's my first time in an active volcano, but not first time in a disaster. We've been working in Bahamas (severely hit by Hurricane Dorian in 2019).
"I'm happy, excited to go out there with all support from population in different countries. We continue to receive solidarity and contributions."
Pierre said the Red Cross also aims to help neighbouring countries that have been affected.
"Our main operation will be in St Vincent, but there are several other islands being impacted, so we aim for a much wider operation to be able to support those islands, particularly Barbados, because we've seen how they're being affected by the ash flow. We also aim to support St Lucia and Dominica in our relief efforts.
"The national society in SVG Red Cross has a lot of responsibility on their national volcano plan, so we are going to help them fulfil their duties in their auxiliary role to the government."
Senior Red Cross finance officer Arshad Mandol, whose first mission was in the Bahamas, said he's had to be innovative to mobilise resources.
"Often times we have to think outside the box in an emergency. You have to come up with practical solutions to ensure you are meeting the standards and requirements of the organisation trying to roll out our plan of action," he said.
The Red Cross members will be in St Vincent for between two weeks and a month before being rotated out.