Roscian Hope said she felt panic and sadness when she first heard about the volcanic eruptions in her home country of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Her sister was one of thousands of Vincentians evacuated due to La Soufrière’s major eruption on April 9.
Hope, president of the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Association of Calgary, knew that flying into the country to help wasn’t possible, so she and her organization quickly got to work collecting donations to send to those in need.
“We tend to say we are overwhelmed, but overwhelmed with joy,” Hope told CBC News. Her association co-ordinated with similar associations across Canada, as well as with the Consulate General in Toronto.
“A lot of people want to help, and they were grateful that somebody in Calgary was doing something on a larger scale.”
The island chain, located in the Caribbean, is home to more than 100,000 people, the majority of whom live on the main island of St. Vincent.
As of April 20, more than 6,200 evacuees were staying in 88 government shelters and thousands of others in homes or private shelters. That day, the United Nations announced that it is seeking $29.2 million to help St. Vincent and the Grenadines recover.
WATCH | Relief efforts underway after La Soufrière volcanic eruptions:
The relief efforts seen in Calgary can also be found in Vincentian communities across Canada, with ongoing drives taking place to procure much-needed supplies.
Montreal’s Vincentian association has also collected donations and supplies for evacuees, while Ottawa’s held silent auctions in order to raise funds.
LISTEN | St. Vincent volcano relief efforts in the Ottawa-Gatineau area:
In Town and Out12:23St Vincent volcano relief efforts in Ottawa-Gatineau
Hope said her association has also received support from Alberta’s wider Caribbean community.
“We’ve had people from Edmonton come down to the [donation] event to drop off a truckload or a Jeep-load of stuff,” she said. “So we’ve had our Jamaican brothers and sisters here, our Barbadian brothers and sisters, our St. Lucian brothers and sisters.
“All the islands have stepped up and really, really helped us in this cause.”
Massive rebuilding effort needed, PM says
Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves said last week that officials were still quantifying the damage, but that rebuilding will run “in the hundreds of millions of dollars,” on top of “massive” humanitarian relief needs.
Food, water and ash removal remain high priorities as neighbouring nations and organizations pour supplies and funding into St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
WATCH | Canadian in St. Vincent on the crisis after volcanic eruption:
Jim Lewis, president of the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Association of Toronto, hopes the “tremendous” charitable response he’s seen is just the first step to helping Vincentians after this crisis.
“We want to remind people that while we are happy and the response is good, this is just the first call,” he told CBC News.
He’s worried that the lasting effects of the volcano’s eruptions, combined with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, will require long-term support for the island and those affected.
“Don’t forget us when the bright lights are off of the country,” Lewis said.
More than 16,000 people were evacuated ahead of the first, April 9 explosion of La Soufrière. Officials noted that ash was piled up to 42 centimetres high in some homes in the northern part of St. Vincent, where the volcano is located.
So far, UN agencies have set aside $2 million US for water, hygiene and food vouchers and will send experts to help with the ash cleanup. Nations including Guyana, Dominica and Trinidad & Tobago have pledged funding and shipped basic supplies.
WATCH | St. Vincent residents reel from ongoing volcanic eruptions:
Gonsalves warned it would take a long time for the northern one-third of St. Vincent to recover and rebuild. He noted that a high number of impoverished people live in the area, which has long relied on agriculture, animal husbandry, fishing and some tourism.
“None of that exists anymore…. Plants have to be replanted,” he said last week. “We have been set back decades.”
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