As if the past few months haven’t brought enough challenges to the people of Barbados, mother nature has now well and truly iced the cake with a liberal sprinkling of volcanic ash!
La Soufriere is an active volcano in the north of St Vincent that has been showing signs of increased activity for the past few months.
On Friday the 9th of April, she finally blew, in an explosive eruption at 08.41 in the morning, sending clouds of ash miles into the sky and all the way to Barbados, 100 miles or so across the sea to the east.
Before I go on to describe our experience here in Barbados, I have to say that, first and foremost, my thoughts go out to the people of St Vincent. Anything we are experiencing here can be nothing compared to what they are going through. There have been images circulating on social media of people walking down streets covered in ash, homes and cars engulfed by ash, people fleeing in tiny boats with smoke and ash pouring into the skies behind them. So far, we have not heard of any casualties, but I understand that thousands of people are still huddled together in emergency shelters, all over the island, as I write.
On Friday, we first heard about the eruption, on social media in the middle of the morning. At the time, it appeared that most of the ash cloud was going to pass us by to the north. By midday this seemed to have been the case, so we cheerfully headed down to the beach thinking that we’d dodged a bullet! Little did we know …
As we enjoyed a beer at our favourite little beach bar, the skies to the west began to darken.
I logged on to social media to discover a stream of posts about subsequent eruptions, bigger than the first, and more ash clouds heading our way. We headed home to get under cover. But, again, it veered north at the last moment, provoking jovial claims that Barbados has her own field force!
So, Friday night we went to bed wondering what all the fuss was about. A tiny part of me was a little bit disappointed. I’m going to be completely honest here, so please don’t judge. I think I’ve said before, I have a morbid fascination with the power of nature. I think it’s linked to my equally morbid fascination with all things apocalyptic. I feel guilty, because I know that these events have devastating consequences for people, that I would never wish on anyone, but I still can’t help being strangely excited by a really big storm or high winds and torrential rain. I have never experienced an earthquake, hurricane, or tsunami and of course I hope I never will. But a part of me has always wondered what it would be like to see mother nature venting at her worst!
And now I know. Saturday we woke up to more darkening skies. The sun could barely peek through the ash-laden clouds that filled the sky. More massive explosions had occurred overnight and in the early morning. Neither of us heard or felt anything but we didn’t sleep well. Dogs were barking and howling on and off all night and M was calling out in his sleep, dreaming that ash was falling on him, every time the mosquito net brushed against his leg. As the morning progressed, a soft film of dust was settling over anything outside, and we decided to move indoors.
And that is where we have been ever since. Indoors with all windows and doors tightly closed and the fans on. We spent Saturday afternoon watching TV – a first in Barbados – and consoled ourselves with a tot or two of rum. It was a very strange day, as wave after wave of ash passed over the island and the deposits on the ground got thicker and thicker.
Each ash cloud reaches us about and hour and a half after the explosion on St Vincent. Skies get dark in the west as the cloud approaches, and the skies in the east take on an eerie yellow glow. At 3.30 yesterday afternoon, day turned to night. Birds stopped tweeting and all other sounds were muffled by the thick layers of cloud. Even the sea was quiet. You can smell the sulphur in the air. Your skin feels dirty and gritty. It irritates your eyes and throat causing sneezing, nose-blowing, and throat-clearing – no actual coughing yet. We went to bed on Saturday night, not knowing what the coming day would bring.
And, so far, it has just brought more of the same, actually a little worse. During the night, the wind picked up. It too, had been unusually quiet yesterday. It blew ash in at the bottom of the east facing shutters in our bedroom. I’ve blocked them up with towels now and the other rooms seem ok, but now we have a light film of ash over everything in the house. Not a lot, but you can feel it when you walk barefoot on the floor and, when you pick up your phone or kindle, you have to wipe it off. There is a film of ash on my keyboard as I type. Fingers crossed all our “devices” will survive this!
This morning at 06.30am, we went outside, during a gap in proceedings, to see what things were like, and were so shocked by what we saw, that we let the door slam behind us! Locked out, on our balcony at 06.30 on a Sunday morning with another ash plume rapidly approaching. We decided it did constitute an emergency, albeit of our own making, and sheepishly called the owner downstairs to see if she could let us back in! Of course, she did, and was very understanding.
It’s now just after 9am and another cloud has just hit from an explosion a couple of hours ago, with another to follow. I’m tracking them using a service called windy.com. doesn’t seem as if anything else has occurred since 7am. Fingers crossed! Nevertheless, it’ll be another day snuggled up in front of the TV in 30 degrees. We have thunderstorms forecast for tomorrow. Hopefully it’ll rain and wash some of it away.
In the meantime, spare a thought, and if you can maybe a donation, for the people of St Vincent.