By Bria King of Searchlight Newspaper (SVG) for Newsday
Though farmers in the red zone of St Vincent are ready to return to their land, the aftermath of La Soufriere’s eruptions still hinders their efforts, months after the disaster.
When Searchlight first met Terry Joseph, Dave Sutton and David Seymour, the three were standing on a bridge in New Chapmans looking up at La Soufriere, which had erupted just two days earlier, on April 9.
While many others in the surrounding communities sought refuge at public and private shelters, these farmers stayed in their homes in the red zone.
They recently shared their experiences since the eruption, which were compounded by the passing of Hurricane Elsa on July 2.
Joseph, who lives in New Chapmans said his house was been damaged in December 2013, when heavy rain caused significant flooding in St Vincent and the Grenadines. This damage has seemingly been made worse by the volcanic eruptions.
“A lot of ash was on the roofs, real, real heavy ash. The amount of ash that was up there, the nails them, the nail hole them like they open up more so like there’s a seepage of water coming through. That’s the biggest problem for us now,” Joseph told Searchlight on July 4.
He said during the eruptions, there was ash everywhere inside his home, including the bed. The widened holes in the galvanise sheets on his roof were also entry points for water from the heavy rain that came with the passage of Hurricane Elsa, which also resulted in waterstains on the walls.
But despite these challenges, he refuses to abandon his home and go to a shelter.
“We put buckets; that was our shelter in our house. Buckets to catch the water and big bath and things to catch the water (during the hurricane),” he said, adding that he would never leave his home for any reason. “Even if I see fire coming down the road there, I will never go to a camp. Never, ever. I rather die right here.”
This is not the first time he has experienced a volcanic eruption.
But on this occasion he suffered the greatest loss, as he lost most of his crops, including yams, sweet potatoes and groundnuts.
And while some of his plantain trees survived that disaster, they were all blown down by the heavy winds that accompanied Elsa’s passage over St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG).
David Seymour, like Joseph, is adamant that he will never resort to a shelter during a disaster.
The 52-year-old also has suffered significant losses as a result of the recent disasters.
And though he is ready to return to the land, he said animals are posing a threat to the farming community.
“It just rough, it get harder. In spite that the government following up a lot with the people and them who never really run from the situation, they still can’t understand the needs, especially of the farmers. What me really ah look at; it’s time enough to start get back to land, but the animal and them are real destruction to man,” he said, referring to goats and cattle that have yet to be reclaimed in the red zone that have been eating crops.
He added that dogs also continue to kill farm animals as well.
Seymour farms just over six acres of land in the Tourama area. He also visited his farm regularly during the volcanic eruptions.
He told Searchlight he was not at all scared, because he has experienced La Soufriere’s eruptions before.
“This ah the worst me ever face. It come harder than any of the other times and it blow more often than anything I ever see,” the farmer said, adding that all of his crops were also destroyed by the eruption. He also lost some livestock
“Me can’t do nothing now. Just chilling on the ice, watching the vibes, just waiting for people to start take back their animals (so I could) go back on my land. It go be little more frustration, but your mind just have to be strong and know well everything in the hands of God until the right time come,” he said.
He said he would “really like to see ah people get back them place to the fullest and then farmers go need a little help with certain things, especially with plants… Fruit plants to start plant back”.
For Dave Sutton, life has seemingly returned to some level of normality, as most of the ash has been cleared away.
But he said he too has suffered great losses of crops and livestock – his only source of income.
The 46-year-old said his plantains and potatoes were destroyed. He was able to recover his cattle, which he had untied at some point during the eruption. But he also witnessed dogs kill one of his goats.
“Right here in the village, but you know, the dog and them been hungry… Me go round and meet them already bite the goat throat, so me just had to leave them. Can’t do nothing to that…Is one goat the dog them bite up, but it was heavy in kid. Just in a month time, it been ah get kiddie,” Sutton said, shaking his head as he recalled the incident.
He is confident about his decision to stay behind, saying if he had to do it over again, he would.
“Me experience something me ain’t even know if me will live to experience again,” he said, adding that the only time he was scared was when he lost his way while trying to go to his farm in heavy ashfall, on a road he has traversed regularly since he was a little boy.
He hasn’t returned to his farm since the passage of Hurricane Elsa, but like his colleagues, is hopeful they will be able to recover their losses and rise from the ashes.
La Soufriere has not erupted explosively since April 22, and seismic activity at the mountain has slowed significantly, though a few hotspots are still being recorded there.
None of the three men believes La Soufriere will blow again anytime soon.