FARMERS IN THE North Windward area of the volcano Red Zone were hit doubly hard with the 32 explosive eruptions of La Soufriere volcano in April 2021, followed by the passage of Hurricane Elsa on July 1.
One of those farmers is 62-year-old Calvert Millar of Sandy Bay, whose farm sits nestled in the Waterloo Mountain. He rears goats, pigs, sheep, cattle, and plants arrowroot on about 3 and a half acres.
Millar also has about 2,000 plantain trees, and is arguably one of the two the biggest producers of tomatoes north of the dry river.
Millar told SEARCHLIGHT last Friday that the pain he feels from the devastation brought about by La Soufriere, is the same pain the other farmers are enduring.
“All of my arrowroot, plantain, and tomatoes were destroyed by the ash which was denser that what places like Georgetown and other parts of the island further south got,” Millar said. “I did not plan to evacuate for I had already moved the important things out of the house, for where I am living in the mountain is easy for persons to access the house.”
He went to stay at Fairhall, but insisted “I did not plan to move. I always said that I am not going to move.”
He pointed out that leading up to Thursday April 8, 2021, there were no visible signs from the volcano. That Friday morning he said he and two of his workers were tending to the tomato plants when they “heard a noise like thunder. When I looked up I saw like it was the mountain coming towards us in the sky. We jumped in the jeep and drove towards the house.”
He received a call from a friend who informed him that La Soufriere had erupted. “We got to the house and were packing the rest of the stuff we wanted, and while we were doing that, stones began to fall from the sky, and the place got dark. I drove and hustle to get across the Rabacca.”
On Saturday morning two of his workmen journeyed back, but were only able to get as far as Overland, where another eruption caught them, forcing the duo to change course and head back to Fairhall.
“It took me about two weeks to come back, but I use to send my driver and other workers to check on the house,” added Millar. “One of my workers insisted he was not going anywhere. He stayed downstairs, and I left the keys to upstairs with him so he was able to have access to food and water.”
Millar and his workers had filled a number of plastic barrels and buckets with drinking water, and stored food in the days leading up to the first eruption.
He lost about four sows due to the ash, and persons stole about 15 pigs, each costing around EC$200.00 to EC$250.00. He said the theft took place “when the volcano began to simmer down, and I was able to catch a number of the goats. I did not lose much, just about two goats and two sheep.”
He spoke of the many animals farmers lost due to attacks by scavenging dogs whose only source of food during the eruptions were domestic animals.
But it was his fields which suffered the most devastation. All of the plantain, arrowroot his main crop, and tomatoes were wiped out; which in dollar value would be about EC$150,000.00. Although the farms are beginning to be rehabilitated, Millar feels all of the farmers like himself are faced with many difficulties in getting their farms back to normal.
“The ash is very thick on the ground, and we do not have the equipment to plow the land which is the best thing to do. Because what we have been encountering is that the heavy rainfall mixed with the ash is causing even more destruction to the land,” the farmer said.
“When Elsa hit, it did more damage to some of the work we had [done]. The water left huge gullies, the wind took the roof of the pig pen and left it way up the mountain, and it was just more destruction.”
The roof to the pigpen was found about a halfmile away. The surface of Millar’s farm was scarred with deep gullies left by the flowing water, and the access road to his farm has been left impassable by the heavy rains.
“However, Elsa did not impact me much except for the roof of the pigpen and my house and the water which did damage to the road on the farm. It was the volcano which did all of the damage to crops and left a huge amount of ash,” Millar told SEARCHLIGHT.
Adding to his loss is the threat to his health. Millar said he has contracted a skin infection as a result of exposure to the ash, which has forced a delay to his return and he has not been able to get all of the ash cleaned from his yard, which has forced him to delay returning to live full-time at the house in Waterloo.