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40 years on, La Soufrière is still alive

40 years on,  La Soufrière is still alive
(From left) Dr Richard Robertson (Director, Seismic Research Centre (SRC) UWI), Monique Johnson and Alia Juman also of the SRC


It’s been 40 years since La Soufrière last erupted, and the anniversary is being commemorated in a big way by NEMO, the Seismic Research Centre (SRC) at UWI and several other parties.

The activities officially started last Friday with a launch and exhibit hosted by the National Emergency Management Organization (NEMO) and the SRC of the University of the West Indies(UWI).

The set up, in the heart of Kingstown, featured a large walk-in model titled the “Soufrière Blow” exhibit, which gives information about the volcano using stories of the last eruption. Notably, among the pictures, handouts and videos, there was also a sample of what an emergency kit should contain in the event that one needs to pack up and go to a shelter.

“Often when you have an emergency, people assume that you just go to a shelter with nothing and someone…NEMO and everybody else, will provide everything, that’s not true, there’s supposed to be some basic things that you should come with,” Dr Richard Robertson, the Vincentian director of the SRC noted, while speaking to SEARCHLIGHT at the exhibit.

Between last Friday and today, there were multiple activities as the groups kick this Volcano Awareness Month into high gear. There were two public treks up to the crater of La Soufrière, from both on the Leeward and Windward sides, visits to schools in Kingstown, Georgetown, and South Rivers with the “Soufrière Blow” exhibit, and an art workshop getting students to draw the volcano.

Following this week, NEMO will focus on meetings with communities in the red zone, such as Owia, Fancy, Sandy Bay, Georgetown and Colonarie, to get them prepared for the Tradewinds Exercise.

This Exercise, which is sponsored by the United States of America’s (USA) Southern Command and is being hosted by St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) for the first time since 2004, will involve a number of simulations for local, regional troops, and emergency response personnel. One of these simulations is the evacuation of persons in the red zone of the volcano.

Therefore, the meetings at these communities will be to prepare them for this large scale simulation, involving hundreds of troops, which will takes place between June 14 and 21.

Robertson explained that as we move further away from the 1979 eruption, it is easier for people to forget the impact an eruption can have, but the Volcano Awareness month allows people to speak about the eruption and ensure that the memory lives on.

“You need to remind people that this volcano is still alive it’s not dead,” he commented, continuing, “it’s a volcano that probably doesn’t erupt very often, and the kinda time period between eruptions is more than 40, and 50 years… sometimes it’s a hundred years, but that doesn’t mean that you forget it.”

Further, “Since 40 years ago, they learnt a lot about the volcano, there’s a lot of knowledge about the nature of the volcanic system itself. There’s a lot of knowledge about how people have dealt with eruptions,” the volcanologist says.

Robertson says that although now we are in a much better place in terms of being prepared for a future eruption, “but saying that doesn’t mean that we should keep comfortable and feel that, you know, we there already.” Therefore, activities during Volcano Awareness Month will reinforce the building of awareness.

He noted, “just like how you have insurance for your car, you should have insurance, and have things in place for these hazards because they’re going to hit you at some point.”

Other groups involved in the execution of Volcano Awareness month, are the Soufrière Monitoring Unit (SMU), the Forestry Division, the Ministry of Health, the Royal St Vincent and the Grenadines Police Force(RSVGPF) Tradewinds Secretariat and the UWI SRC Volcano Ready Communities Project SVG.