OECS Member States Coordinating On Accepting Vincentian Evacuees

(CMC) — The governments of Eastern Caribbean countries are collaborating to finalise assistance for the approximately 8,000 Vincentians who will need to be accommodated after being evacuated from areas near the La Soufriere volcano which erupted on Friday morning.

Chairman of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit of Dominica, said discussions have been ongoing since Thursday night, on the heels of an evacuation order issued by Vincentian Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves.

Skerrit said his information was that an estimated 20,000 people had to be evacuated from the red zone near the volcano, and about 12,000 of those would be accommodated in shelters in safe areas.

The others need to leave the country.

“So, what we’re doing from last night to today, we’re coordinating with member states of the OECS and, of course, Caricom to see how many evacuees each country can accommodate from St Vincent,” Skerrit said on Friday.

“It is a very difficult situation for the government and people of St Vincent and the Grenadines and it calls for all of us to extend our solidarity, our empathy, our love and concern for the people of St Vincent and the Grenadines. This is coming at a very difficult time with COVID-19 but this is a natural disaster and we have to respond with the love and solidary that is required of us as citizens of the OECS and human beings.”

Prime Minister Gonsalves has already indicated that Dominica is among his country’s regional neighbours who have stepped up to take in displaced Vincentians.

He said at a press conference on Friday morning that Dominica, Grenada and Antigua had indicated they would be ready by Sunday or Monday to accept evacuees.

Prime Minister Skerrit confirmed his government’s plan to assist.

“We met last night as a Cabinet along with our technical people to discuss our acceptance and start preparing to receive evacuees from St Vincent and the Grenadines. Today we will confirm the numbers of people that we will accommodate, but certainly Dominica will be accommodating some people,” he said, adding that they will be housed in hotels and private properties.

“Whatever is required on the part of the government of Dominica, we will respond with the brotherly love that St Vincent has shown to us every time.

I believe we have a duty, an obligation to extend a hand of love and hand of empathy to the people of St Vincent.”

“The prime minister told me that people would have to be evacuated for up to four to five months. So, you can imagine if people are in a shelter for four to five months how challenging that can be, and in a time when people are so anxious with the presence of COVID-19,” Skerrit added.

Prime Minister Gonsalves has indicated that he would prefer some of the evacuees who remain in the country not to stay in shelters.

He is seeking to have the elderly, people with health problems and shut-ins placed in guest houses, hotels and private residences on the mainland and possibly Bequia, the second-largest island in the Grenadines.