Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves says that his government expects that evacuees from the volcano Orange Zone, except those from Chateaubelair and Fitz Hughes, and people whose houses were damaged by the eruption are to leave emergency shelters by Tuesday.
“… immediately, what we have to ensure that persons who are from the Orange Zone, right now, save and except those from Fitz Hughes and Chateaubelair — they are in the Orange Zone but because of the extent of the ash there we are still not asking persons to go back there yet — but everywhere else in the orange zone, as I speak, persons should be leaving the shelters to go back home,” the prime minister said.
He was speaking on NBC Radio from Cuba, where he has gone to accompany his wife for therapy after spinal surgery in the United States earlier this year.
The prime minister’s comments came even as some Orange Zone residents who have attempted to move back into their homes have complained about the ash from public spaces such as roads, schools and playing fields, which are yet to be cleaned, are frustrating their efforts to clean their homes.
“Which means everybody from below Mt Young River on the northeast,” the prime minister said and went on to detail the persons who should leave emergency shelters and return to their homes.
“So you started below the village in the area of Mt Young going all the way, I am talking below the river, south of the river: Chester Cottage, Byera, Gorse, Mangrove, Colonarie, South Rivers, Park Hill, Bellevue, and all those areas can go back home.
“And most of the persons from those areas who moved out are moving back and we are asking them all, and those for instance in Saboto’s constituency (South Central Windward) from Mt. Grennan come down, anyone who had moved out must go back, and you can go back safely,” the prime minister said.
He said there will be “the odd case where your house needs to get some attention.
“Well, then we have arrangements,” Gonsalves said.
“… We need to get the number of shelters reduced immediately because there are 80-odd shelters. I think 85 at the moment. If we have, for instance 5-, 6-, 700 persons still from the Orange Zone, I don’t know the number, still in shelters, there are some shelters, which consist largely of persons in the Orange Zone.”
He said that if evacuees move out of these shelters, the government can close them “and just transfer whatever the residual numbers to another shelter and reduce the numbers, absolutely, at shelters.
“And where there are schools or learning resources centres or churches, we can begin to do the repairs, the renovations, and in the case of the schools, absolutely necessary for us to start early to get them ready for September.
“And then, by next week, by next week Tuesday, we would expect that everybody below the Rabacca River, that is to say, what you call the entire Langley Park area, Basin Hole, Dickson, Valley, Chili, Georgetown proper, Brownstown come right down to Mt Young River, that they can go back from Tuesday next week because everything, water is in those areas, electricity is in those areas, and the ash is being cleaned up right now in these areas.”
Gonsalves noted the comments of volcanologist Adam Stinton, on the same programme, urging that there be limited activity, with stringent regulation centred on safety in the volcano Red Zone, which, in the east of St. Vincent, includes the communities north of the Rabacca Dry River.
Speaking on the same programme, acting Prime Minister Montgomery Daniel, said that at the National Emergency Council meeting on Tuesday, members discussed ensuring that there is concentration of the cleaning south of the Rabacca Dry River and Fitz Hughes and south of Fitz Hughes, ensuring that those areas are clean before going into the Red Zone.
He said that the National Emergency management Organisation (NEMO) will arrange with shelter managers to organise transportation for persons returning home.
Gonsalves said that the government will “provide food immediately for you also because we understand the difficulty you are going back to.
“So immediately, you will get, as you move back, a food package which would last for two weeks at least. That’s the idea, that’s the plan. And the resources are in the supplementary estimates for that and there is not going to be any penny-pinching on that.”
He said that it is when farmers return to their homes that they will get the income support Parliament approved last week.
The same will apply to people with other types of businesses or those who will get food packages and a stipend of about $150 beginning June, which was also part of the EC$119 fiscal package that lawmakers approved.
“We can’t be paying you to keep you in the shelters and pay you to stay in the shelters. That would be an outlandish proposition. Nowhere is that sort of a thing done,” the prime minister said.