It surprised most people when Saint Vincent island’s La Soufrière volcano erupted April 9, shooting ash clouds miles into the air. But disaster experts in USAID’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance were expecting — and preparing for — La Soufrière‘s eruptions for months, providing early warning systems and support for the local emergency authorities.
After the eruptions, USAID worked with partners in the Caribbean to help people in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines stay safe and healthy through evacuations, and help them recover and rebuild after.
Here are 5 ways we responded:
1. Early Warning: U.S. Science & Tech for Monitoring Volcanoes
La Soufrière started rumbling back in December. Soon after, USAID’s Volcano Disaster Assistance Program — a partnership that taps U.S. Geological Survey’s science and data — donated special seismic activity monitoring stations to the University of the West Indies’ Seismic Research Center to help keep a close eye on the situation. This support helped provide the early warning that allowed local disaster authorities to start mass evacuations the day before the first big eruption.
2. Humanitarian Essentials: Shelter, Food, Water
La Soufrière erupted repeatedly for two weeks, forcing more than 23,000 people to evacuate — many to emergency shelters operated by local authorities. USAID provided local authorities with immediate support for evacuations, and an initial tranche of humanitarian aid to the local Red Cross for emergency food, safe drinking water, and basic hygiene and shelter supplies for evacuees.
We also sent a ship carrying additional supplies from our Miami warehouse, where we stock them for just such emergencies.
3. Logistics: Getting Aid from Point A to B
Volcanic ash from La Soufriere’s explosions quickly covered the island, polluting the air and water — and closing the airport. That created big problems getting humanitarian aid to Saint Vincent. USAID asked the UN World Food Program (WFP) to use an ongoing Caribbean support program to provide emergency logistics support.
WFP — the logistics backbone of the global humanitarian system — powered up the cranes and soon set up a logistics hub to receive, store and distribute aid to people in need.
4. COVID-Safe: Sharing Assistance without Spreading Disease
In May, USAID provided another $3.8 million in support for emergency food, safe drinking water, hygiene supplies, sanitary latrines, and essential household items for thousands of people in St. Vincent. The new funds will also provide essential medical supplies and support to health facilities — and hygiene promotion activities to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and other diseases in emergency shelters and communities.
5. Recovery: Supporting Clean-Up & Helping People Return Home
La Soufriere has grown quiet but our work is not over. Saint Vincent is covered in a thick layer of volcanic ash that has polluted air and water, collapsed roofs, and destroyed crops and pastures. Clean up will take months, but it has already started. In April, USAID sent in a three-person Americas Support Team to provide technical and logistical support to the UN-led environmental assessment. In May, USAID and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies will start preparing evacuees to return home and resume livelihood activities like fishing and farming. This will include providing growers whose fields were destroyed by ash access to seeds and tools.
Recovery from this disaster will take many more months, but USAID will be there for the long haul. While volcano eruptions are rare, USAID stands ready to help and we have the equipment, expertise and people to do so.
Get more information on USAID’s response to St. Vincent.