PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad – The Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) is providing technical assistance in response to volcanic eruptions of La Soufrière volcano in St Vincent and the Grenadines. CARPHA is part of the Rapid Response Team (RRT), which is spearheaded by the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA).
On December 29, 2020, the alert level for La Soufrière was elevated to Orange due to increased activity at the site, which is located in the northern part of the main island of St. Vincent. Effusive activity continued, until April 8, 2021, when the UWI Seismic Research Centre team based in St Vincent indicated new seismic events were occurring that are typical with explosive eruptions. The government of St Vincent and the Grenadines raised the alert level to Red and ordered an evacuation of the Red volcanic hazard zone. More than 4,000 persons were evacuated to other parts of the island. Explosive eruptions commenced at 8:42 am on April 9, 2021 and have continued to present day with an expansive ash plume and pyroclastic flows being reported. Ash fall has affected not only St Vincent but the neighbouring islands of Barbados, Saint Lucia and Grenada.
Health effects after a volcanic eruption include respiratory problems, eye problems, and skin irritation due to gases and ash released into the atmosphere. Watercourses and reservoirs may become contaminated leading to a reduction in safe, drinking water supplies.
“CARPHA leads the public health component of the RRT. We will provide technical advice and support to the Ministry of Health officials in St Vincent and the Grenadines. We also stand ready to support the neighbouring Member States that are being impacted by the ash, and those who have offered a home away from home to evacuees,” stated Dr Joy St John, executive director of CARPHA.
Recently CARPHA developed a COVID-19 Protocol During Evacuation which has been approved for use by the 27th Meeting of the Council for Human and Social Development (COHSOD). CARPHA has also developed:
- A technical brief which describes how to choose and maintain the right respiratory protection depending on the task and exposure to a volcanic eruption.
- Infographics for
- Evaluating, Choosing, and Planning Emergency Shelters
- Prevention of Transmission of COVID-19 in shelters
- Managing Illness at the Shelter; and
- What to do if Seeking Shelter in COVID-19 times.
These documents can be found at https://www.carpha.org/What-We-Do/Emergency-Response
In accordance with the Inter-Governmental Agreement, CARPHA, as the sole public health agency for the Caribbean region, is mandated to respond to emergencies including hurricanes, earthquakes, flooding, and other natural disasters. CARPHA will continue to work with CDEMA and other agencies to assess the need for further support.
The risk of increased cases of COVID-19 during this time, through evacuation and gathering in emergency shelters is significant. Every effort must be made to protect persons living in the emergency shelters, including appropriate social distancing and hygiene measures, testing of symptomatic individuals, isolation of COVID-19 positive individuals and quarantine of contacts in isolation shelters. Member States are also being urged to continue their vaccination rollout to aid in limiting spread where feasible.
CARPHA expresses deep concern and sympathy for the residents of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and nearby countries affected by La Soufriere. We urge Caribbean residents and visitors to take continued precautions and follow the advice of the authorities.