When Jeneatha Oxley thinks of her native country, she recalls beaches whiter than anything we know in Canada.
That all changed last Friday, when La Soufrière, a large volcano on the island of Saint Vincent, began erupting after remaining largely dormant since 1979. The volcano spewed ash across a wide area, including the nearby fellow Caribbean country of Barbados, where the local resident still has family members.
“To see that ash just creep through a village, it’s just unbelievable,” said Oxley, referring to the thick residue that has been landing on the island since La Soufrière began acting up again.
“All you can do is run from it, because it was creating fire in its path.”
The images she has seen of the resulting damage have left her saddened.
“The beaches are black instead of white,” she said.
Oxley, who came to Canada in 1973, has been in regular contact with family members.
“People are still in clean-up mode, just waiting for the next dump,” she said Thursday, after another blast from the volcano overnight.
She is thankful her relatives are all right, but the situation is difficult nonetheless.
“It’s a very, very stressful situation,” said Oxley. “You’re dealing with nature. There’s only so much you can predict with any accuracy.”
Her family members face uncertainty over how much longer the volcano will keep erupting, said Oxley, adding it could take weeks or even months before La Soufrière settles down again.
On the encouraging side of the news, she said, the mouth of the eruption appears to have widened, meaning the ash is not projected with as much force.
La Soufrière last erupted in 1979. While there was some minor activity now and then in the intervening decades, it started acting up again at the end of December, said Oxley.
The eruptions turned day into night, while Oxley likens the ash dumped on the surrounding area, when combined with rain, to wet cement.
“It has been extremely, extremely difficult for the island to handle this,” she said.
Along with the massive cleanup effort required, the volcanic ash poses a health hazard, at a time when N95 masks are hard to come by and expensive.
Oxley says there are no anti-maskers in her native country.
“You don’t have to convince anybody in Barbados to wear a mask,” she said.
“You just have to say sulfur dioxide and the mask goes on.”
While facing its own challenges with the volcanic residue, Barbados is trying to accommodate evacuees from St. Vincent and the Grenadines, where the volcano is located.
Oxley said Thursday the next step is figuring out what kind of aid is needed in the region. St. Vincent, for instance, needs bottled water because of the volcano’s impact on its water system, but that hasn’t been as much a problem for Barbados.
“What is paramount right now is for the two countries to negotiate what help they really need,” said Oxley.
She is confident in the resilience of the island nations, adding the presence of the volcano is just a part of life in that region.
“They learn to live with it, because what can they do unless they move?” said Oxley.