Issues from La Soufriere eruption still hindering farmers’ return to the land
BY BRIA KING
WHILE FARMERS IN the red zone area are ready to return to their lands, many issues resulting from the eruptions of La Soufriere continue to hinder their efforts months after the disaster.
When SEARCHLIGHT first met Terry Joseph, Dave Sutton and David Seymour, the three were standing on a bridge in New Chapmans looking up at La Soufriere, which had explosively erupted just two days earlier on April 11, 2021.
While many others in the communities sought refuge at public and private shelters, these farmers stayed in their homes in the red zone area. They recently shared their experiences since the eruption, which in most cases have been compounded by the passing of Hurricane Elsa on July 2.
Joseph, a New Chapmans resident said his house has been damaged since the trough of December 2013, which caused significant flooding in St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG). This damage seemed to have been made worse by the volcanic eruptions.
“A lot of ash was on the roofs, real, real heavy ash. The amount of ash that was up there, the nails them, the nail hole them like they open up more so like there’s a seepage of water coming through. That’s the biggest problem for us now…” Joseph, a resident of New Chapmans told SEARCHLIGHT on Sunday, July 4.
He said during the eruptions, ash was everywhere inside his home, including on the bed. The widened holes in his roof were also entry points for water from the heavy rains that came with the passage of Hurricane Elsa last weekend which also left water marks on the walls.
Despite these challenges, the New Chapmans resident refuses to abandon his home by going to a shelter.
“We put buckets; that was our shelter in our house. Buckets to catch the water and big bath and things to catch the water [during the hurricane],” he said, adding that he would never leave his home for any reason. “Even if I see fire coming down the road there, I will never go to a camp. Never, ever. I rather die right here.”
This is not the first time that the farmer has experienced a volcanic eruption. But it was during the 2021 eruptions that he suffered the greatest loss of most of his crops including yams, sweet potatoes and groundnuts.
And while some of his plantains survived the eruptions, they were all blown down by heavy winds that accompanied Elsa’s passage over SVG.
David Seymour, like Joseph, is adamant that he will never resort to going to a shelter during a disaster.
The 52-year-old also has suffered significant loss as a result of the recent disasters.
And though he is ready to return to the land, he said animals are posing a threat to the farming community.
“It just rough, it get harder. In spite that the government following up a lot with the people and them who never really run from the situation, they still can’t understand the needs, especially of the farmers. What me really ah look at; it’s time enough to start get back to land but the animal and them are real destruction to man,” he said, referring to goats and cattle that have yet to be reclaimed by persons in the red zone eating crops.
He said dogs also continue to kill farm animals as well.
Seymour farms just over six acres of land in the Tourama and visited his farm regularly during the volcanic eruptions.
He told SEARCHLIGHT that he was not at all scared because he has previously experienced an eruption.
“This ah the worst me ever face; it come harder than any of the other
times and it blow more often than anything I ever see,” the farmer said, adding that all of his crops were destroyed as a result of the eruption.
He also lost some livestock.
“Me can’t do nothing now. Just chilling on the ice, watching the vibes, just waiting for people to start take back their animals [so I could] go back on my land. It go be little more frustration but your mind just have to be strong and know well everything in the hands of God until the right time come.”
The farmer said what he would “really like to see ah people get back them place to the fullest and then farmers go need a little help with certain things, especially with plants… fruit plants to start plant back”.
For Dave Sutton, life has seemingly returned to some level of normalcy as most of the ash has been cleared away.
However, the farmer noted that he too has suffered great loss of crops and livestock – his only source of income.
The 46-year-old said his plantains and potatoes were destroyed.
He was able to recover his cattle, which he untied at some point during the eruption. But he also witnessed dogs kill one of his goats “Right here in the village, but you know, the dog and them been hungry…me go round and meet them already bite the goat throat so me just had to leave them. Can’t do nothing to that…is one goat the dog them bite up but it was heavy in kid. Just in a month time, it been ah get kiddie,” Sutton said, shaking his head as he recalled the incident.
The New Chapmans resident is confident in his choice to stay behind, noting that if he had to do it over again, he would.
“Me experience something me ain’t even know if me will live to experience again,” he said, noting that the only time he was scared was when he lost his way while trying to go to his farm in heavy ashfall, on a road he traversed regularly since he was a little boy.
He hasn’t returned to his farm since the passage of Hurricane Elsa, but the farmer, just like his other colleagues, is hopeful that they will be able to recover their losses and rise from the ashes of the recent eruptions.
La Soufriere has not erupted explosively since April 22, and seismic activity at the mountain has slowed significantly with a few hotspots still being recorded there. None of the three men believe that La Soufriere will blow again anytime soon.