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Heavy rains worsen the effects of St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ La Soufrière volcano

Categories: Caribbean, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, Citizen Media, Disaster, Environment, Humanitarian Response, Science

Lava flow from La Soufrière. Photo [1] by Dave Brown on Flickr; CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 [2].

As if the ongoing [3] volcanic [4] eruptions [5] and widespread ashfall [6] from La Soufrière [7] weren't enough, the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines are now contending with flooding and dangerous landslides as a result of a particularly heavy bout of rainfall on April 29 [8].

As the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season [9] inches closer, the erosion caused by lahars [10]—destructive volcanic mudflows—could be made worse. The loose sediment and volcanic debris the lahars carry, which can travel very quickly towards flood plains, have the potential to damage houses [11], cover wide areas of low-lying agricultural land, and clog rivers and streams, causing large-scale flooding:

Landslides and flooding have affected areas [25] near the south [26] of the island, including the capital, Kingstown. On Facebook, Lennox Lampkin, who lives fairly close to the volcano, noted [27]:

Floods will be particularly bad where roads were not cleared as […] heavy volcanic sand blocks the drains.

He further observed [28]:

[W]hile the lahars may be limited to the red zone, the flooding will be all over the country and may [in] fact impact the south far more that the north. The heavily populated areas are at risk of roads becoming muddy rivers.

Many of the video clips shared by citizen journalists showed the distressing results:

The country's National Emergency Management Organisation (NEMO) issued a press statement [31] on April 27, noting that dangerous lahar flows had been reported in the red and orange zones, and that residents’ access to these areas would be restricted, especially since rainfall was expected to continue for the rest of the week.

Many people who live in these zones have said [32] they feel “traumatised” at not being able to return to their homes.

Both the University of the West Indies Seismic Research Centre and volcanologist Dr. Jenni Barclay, however, emphasised the danger:

Many videos posted on social media illustrated the level of damage:

The constant battering the country has had to face over the last few weeks caused some netizens to wonder how much more they could bear:

As the country's resilience is put to the test, and the ripple effects of the volcanic explosions take a toll [57] on agriculture and livestock [58], there are concerns about St. Vincent's food security [59], as well as for the survival [60] of its wildlife [61], including the indigenous [62] St. Vincent Parrot [63].

The country's forestry services, however, have been regularly restocking food [64] to various bird-feeding platforms in the orange zone. They have also been carrying out [65] field assessments of key forest habitats, not only for the St. Vincent Parrot, but also for other endemic plant and animal species [66], and have encouraged the public to be a part of this effort by reporting sightings of birds and animals that appear stressed.

Although the fallout from the La Soufrière eruptions has been described [67] as “apocalyptic,” @uwiseismic posted a photo on Twitter that focused more on the country's resilience:

In that vein, entertainment superstars from the region, including Rihanna [70], who hails from Barbados; Jamaica's Sean Paul and Buju Banton, [71] and Nicki Minaj, who has Trinidad and Tobago roots, will perform at a virtual May 23 concert [72] aimed at raising much-needed funds for St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The University of the West Indies has also been coordinating [73] fundraising efforts under the hashtag #RallyRoundSVG [74].

All the while, La Soufrière continues to evolve [75], and scientists continue to document [76] the effects of its activity—including an explosion [77] on April 22, Earth Day [78].

No one—not even the volcanologists who had been observing her activity even prior to the April 9 eruption [83]—knows what La Soufrière will do next, but they all agree that she is #stilldangerous [84].