Barrouallie: Tales of different eras
April 12, 2013
Barrouallie: 1979 eruption revisited

1979 revisited

Whenever we speak about natural disasters, the young at heart and age always want to experience them. They wish to experience what it is like to be in the midst of a category three and upward hurricane; well, that was until there was Tomas, (which was barely a category one) then the urge to experience was replaced by “not me again”.{{more}}

Then they wished for earthquakes until that one a few years ago shook “the living daylights” out of us; then that urge to experience another tremor disappeared. Their inquisitive nature will not let it rest and now they are wishing for a tsunami or volcanic eruption! I always beg them not to “call” either one, but they stand firm in their imaginative world. None of us here has ever experienced a tsunami, but the graphic images of those in the Indian and Pacific Oceans and the destruction caused to countries therein speak volumes and, with the sea “on our doorsteps” here in Barrouallie, heaven forbid!!

It is the giant which stands above all at a peak of approximately 4,048 ft which grabs our attention from time to time. Let us revisit it in 1979 for a while…Where was I? Well, I was enjoying my first trip out of St Vincent on the island of Trinidad, having gone there a few weeks earlier in the care of an air hostess. I knew something was amiss when my cousin came to the home where I was staying and wanted to speak with Aunty Verbena urgently. As the night progressed, they couldn’t contain themselves any longer: “O God, Barrouallie next!” That aroused my curiosity! Barrouallie next, for what? I was then told that La Soufriere was in action and the evacuation process had reached Spring Village at the time.

La Soufriere in action; I questioned again and again…and I was scheduled to depart Saturday the 14th!!!!

A quick check with the LIAT office confirmed that the airline was making its regular trip to St Vincent. Let’s fast forward a bit. I was heading toward the old bus terminal when someone shouted “watch up dey;” then everyone started to run to and fro. I turned in the direction to which he/she had pointed to behold an out of this world sight: a “cauliflower” was rising above the mountain ranges and was descending into Kingstown. Bolts of lightning cut across the cloud, as ashes washed us from head to toe.

I made it safely to Barrouallie, to discover that my small dwelling place, which was already overcrowded, became even moreso, as two other families from North Leeward had moved in. The story was the same all over Barrouallie, as residents readily accommodated whoever they could. Those who couldn’t find refuge in private homes were housed at the schools within the community and many who were of school age, who didn’t “like school”, shouted in glee because school was out for a long time.

I later learnt that the residents in Barrouallie awoke on April 13, Good Friday, to a black skyline. At first, many did not know what to make of the blackness and felt that “Black Friday” was indeed taking “root”.

Later, as trucks loaded with people began descending on the town, the word spread that “Soufriere ah blow”…Well, many told me that chaos ensued, as people began moving about in a daze, not knowing what to do. I was told that some sought refuge at the police station, only to be told by the person in charge at the time that there was no need to come there, as there was nothing he could have done to help them.

As the days progressed, Barrouallie residents used their food supply and cooked for the evacuees, even before the rations came. Then there was the……bo dow!!!!….which was the sound one heard from the volcanic blast, but which in later days/years was a term used to refer to used clothes which came from overseas as relief supplies. The stories which accompanied the eruption were numerous and frightening. “Another volcano gwine open on the island,” some said. Barrouallie was described as a “safe” zone, so that story at that time really didn’t bother me! Then, we had to undergo some homemade remedies: coals in handkerchiefs wrapped around our nostrils, to avoid inhalation of sulphuric fumes!!!!

1902 seemed to have been worst, from all accounts. The youngster from Pierre Hughes who had survived the 1898 hurricane recounted how he had made it to the summit after the eruption. On his return to the valley below, they were faced by a river of hot mud which they crossed using tree trunks! I was told that some who lived at the far north met their deaths that way, scorched or burnt by the boiling, hot liquid which flowed into the valley.

There is so much to write, but I am already over my limit; maybe in another medium the accounts will be penned in greater detail. With that said, let’s get off here until next week, by God’s will.