Eruptions & Disruptions: A Journal

On Friday April 9th, 2020 Saint Vincent and the Grenadines’ La Soufriere erupted. Gary Bynoe, a young Vincentian shares a 5 day journal entry of his experience

April 9th, 2021: Day 2. My fellow Vincy people.

The following Friday morning was a quiet, still one. Well, at least from the green zone where I was. We were getting reports of rumblings and quakes in the red and orange zones. The air was filled with nervous anticipation for the next update.  The roads were silent. It even felt as if nature itself was holding her breath. We grew up hearing stories of the 1979 eruption, but now here we were, facing one of our own. I spent the morning beginning preparations for ashfall when my cousin and her husband (who are pastors) reached out to me to visit one of the shelters in Kingstown. This was right up my alley. I packed light snacks, water, masks and other potentially useful things.Within the hour I was in the church van with about five other persons, my cousin and her husband included. 

We arrived at the St. Vincent Girls high school. We could see people wondering the premises. Some fetching water, some grouped at the doorway of a room on the ground floor. There were evacuees still arriving, too. Turns out that the doorway on the ground floor was where they were registered. We prayed, and tried to come up with a plan of action but luckily the shelter manager, who also happened to be the school principal, held a briefing for all the volunteers. She explained that the school was not as prepared as they had hoped and were still awaiting crucial supplies from the local disaster management agency. She identified key areas that needed immediate attention and we fitted in where we could. I, along with the pastor and one other church member helped with filling in some gaps in the registration forms. They contained the names of families consisting of the head of the home followed by the other members of that household. Our job was to track them down on the premises and record their room numbers. Seemed simple enough for a task. 

We decided it was best to split up to cover more ground. The school grounds had a number of separate buildings. There was a flat area that hosted the tuck shop and two other buildings on the opposite side of a center lawn; a lawn that was apparently forbidden to be walked on even under the dire circumstances. One of the two buildings, held the staff room and principals office.That was the same building where evacuees were registered. It was also where donations were collected and recorded and even stored.The other building in that area had a ball court behind it. From there, the other buildings ascended on a hill slope. Two of them with one being situated closer to the lawn area where the first two buildings and the tuck shop was and the last (which was separated into A and B parts) was at the top of the slope. 

I took the left building on the upper slope. Along the way I stopped and greeted evacuees occupying the area, introduced myself and explained my task. They were relatively calm under the circumstances and were willing to help if they were able. I also took the time to ask how they were doing and if there was anything they needed to make their stay more comfortable. The majority of persons asked for cots to sleep on as it appeared that the families occupied an empty or almost empty classroom. Others asked for containers to store water or for water itself. In the next hour we had completed this task and regrouped. We were able to exchange information to help each other fill in the gaps that remained before we learned of the next task. Food preparation.

It turns out during the time that we were off on our task, the national disaster agency sent some supplies. And they certainly would get the job done, if we were only catering for a single mother and two children for a weekend. But for a number exceeding one hundred and twenty, we needed a miracle.. I was assisting in the kitchen at the time, but news got to me that the pastor and his wife decided to make a grocery run to see what they can round up for lunch. While they were gone It was the chef, a pleasantly plump mature woman and a young woman who was also volunteering. Now that I think about it I’m not really sure where she came from. Before I knew it, we were all splashing our guts out about the supplies that the disaster agency had the nerve to bring. That conversation only made way to more in-depth topics, like how ingrained politics was in our nation and how blind we have become as a people over the years.  

As deep as we were getting lunch wasn’t going to cook itself. We scavaged for ingredients, put our backs into it, lifted, shifted, strained and moved to make sure the shelter provided lunch. Not too long after my cousin and her husband returned with ingredients, containers and other much needed supplies. We formed a work unit to start putting the lunches together, trying to ensure we catered to the one hundred and twenty or so evacuees, when we noticed a commotion outside.
Everyone had their phones out, pointing and speaking with a distinctive blend of anxiety and excitement. Our curiosity couldn’t be contained anymore. We found ourselves outside staring at a giant plume of smoke in the sky. It was…magnificent. No one wanted to admit it right away, but we were struck by awe beholding it’s sheer size, the dark grey and brown colours, how smoothly the shapes warped and changed and expanded. We video-called relatives, took videos and photos. We no longer held to the 1979 narrative, in that moment, we all knew we had our own. 

Reality began to settle in, however. We had to begin preparing for ashfall. There were multiple explosions that catapulted the plume thousands of miles into the air. We later got news that it was seen from as far as Dominica. This also meant significant ashfall. Our excitement stayed with us for the time we remained at the shelter, but we knew we had to go secure our homes next. My sister and I got to work as soon as I returned home to block up any passageways or crevices that the ash might infiltrate. We taped, filled in and covered where we could. Placed wet towels at the foot of doors and watched as the sky surrendered her blue to the marching grey of darkness.That was day two.

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