Eruption, similar to 1902?
By Renwick Rose
In this the second and final part of a look at the eruptions of 1812 (done last week) and 1902, I try to bring the highlights of those eruptions as recorded in THE ST. VINCENT HANDBOOK. This two-part series replaces temporarily the series on the 1981 struggle against repressive legislation which will resume next week.
Lead scientist, Dr Richard Robertson, himself a Vincentian, and his team monitoring the volcano, have expressed the belief that the current eruption may well follow the pattern of the 1902 one, the most destructive in our recorded history. No praise can be too high for the herculean effort of the team and its contribution to the safety and well-being of the Vincentian people, which is impossible to be quantified. We must therefore take their advice very seriously.
So far we have been able to identify similarities in the behaviour of the volcano. For instance, FREEDOM newspaper of April 27, 1979, quoted from the HANDBOOK as follows:
“About a fortnight prior to the eruption of May 7 (1902), the people of the Leeward villages adjacent to the mountain were alarmed by the frequency and increasing severity of earthquakes, and on May 5 these forewarnings were accompanied by underground noises and grumblings like distant thunder…”
Sure enough the worst came to pass, forcing the Caribs at Morne Ronde to flee to Chateaubelair for safety. La Soufriere entered its explosive stage on the afternoon of May 6, reaching its destructive zenith on May 7. The HANDBOOK has many vivid descriptions by some who witnessed the events first-hand.
We cannot continue to keep these records hidden from the public, especially our schoolchildren and students. They are important records of our history from which we must learn so that we can better handle future disasters as surely, they will occur.
A few brief extracts should whet our appetite for more.
“Then, with a loud roar, at 2 o’clock the great convulsion came. Those who were in the open air saw the huge black cloud rolling down the mountain in globular, surging masses. They fled into the houses and shut the doors….Many of the Negroes houses were so densely crowded with people, that there was hardly standing room….All of those in the hut itself or in the negro village were killed….All of the animals in the field also perished….
“At Rabaka …practically all who were in the negroes’ huts or in the open air perished…. At Orange Hill …about seventy crowded together there…Forty were in the cellar and all were saved. Thirty were in the passage and they were all killed…In Overland village the loss of life was terrible; hundreds were killed….”
Soufriere’s reign of terror went on and the HANDBOOK estimates the total loss of life at about 2000. Of course, the big difference today is that we have scientists and equipment to give us prior warning and help prepare us for evacuation. There are also modern transport vehicles and buildings available for shelters. But we must ask ourselves whether, if more persons were acquainted and had knowledge of the details of the horrors of previous eruptions, would we have ensured better preparation and less of the “me nah ah move” folly?
Dr Robertson has speculated that we may well be in for a long haul, months. It is no easy road before us.
Eruption, similar to 1902?