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Soufrière erupts: Bishop thankful for prayers & “tremendous” support

By Kaelanne Jordan

Email: mediarelations.camsel@catholictt.org

Bishop Gerard County CSSp of Kingstown is appealing for all to pray for the Diocese as evacuation continues in the wake of the eruption of La Soufrière.

The Trinidad-born bishop told Catholic News on Saturday that he remains hopeful “we will come through this” as he spoke of the “tremendous” support within and outside St Vincent and the Grenadines.

Bishop County said that he is not in immediate danger and there is no cause for him to evacuate the Bishop’s residence at the Chancery and Pastoral Centre in Kingstown.

Last Friday, Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines, Dr Ralph Gonsalves, in response to the increased seismic activity at the La Soufriere volcano, issued an Evacuation Order, effective immediately, of all premises in the areas designated in the Red Zones on the northeast and northwest of St Vincent.

Safe areas are those from North Union to Kingstown, on the Windward side of the island, Barouallie to Kingstown on the Leeward side and the Grenadine Islands.

Catholic News was informed that the Redemptorist community that serves Georgetown has moved to the Pastoral Centre with the Bishop.

“We have an orphanage for mentally and physically challenged children run by two Carmelite Sisters. They had to evacuate, and they are in Kingstown in one of our primary schools because one of the nuns teaches there…. That’s the only community that had to evacuate within the Church ” Bishop County said.

Prime Minister Gonsalves was brought to tears as he addressed citizens during a press conference on Friday. He announced that several CARICOM (Caribbean Community) countries had offered to assist.

Referring to this, Bishop County said he too felt overwhelmed by the influx of calls from Trinidad “and all over”.

“And so that’s very helpful for us in this situation…. We just have to wait it out and do what we supposed to do and so we are praying. We [are] still in the octave of Easter and we are hopeful. The Lord has risen and He will pull us through all this.”

The Bishop shared he was engaged in a Zoom meeting with the Food for the Poor, an interdenominational Christian ministry that serves the poor in primarily 17 countries throughout the Caribbean and Latin America.

“I got a call from Archbishop [Jason] Gordon. We’ve been in contact. I just sent him a list…there’s that sense of solidarity and support and that’s very good for me.”

Archbishop Jason Gordon served as bishop of Kingstown (and at the same time as Bishop of Bridgetown, Barbados) July 8, 2011 to December 22, 2015.

Bishop County said he had no plans on venturing outdoors that day because of the ash plumes. He confirmed if the ash remained present, there will no weekend Masses.

Assistance offered

On Friday morning, the National Emergency Management Organization (NEMO) reported via its Facebook page that ash plumes up to 20,000 feet were heading east.

According to the Bishop, the eruption of La Soufrière is new to him. The last volcanic eruption occurred April 13, 1979 after ten months of mild premonitory activity.

J B Shepherd’s The eruption of Soufriere volcano, St Vincent April-June 1979 stated that “a series of strong vertical explosions between 13 and 26 April generated ash falls, pyroclastic flows and mudflows.”

Now, 42 years later, Bishop County asserted that this time around, the authorities “are much more prepared”.

In a statement on the volcanic activity, Chair of CARICOM Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley Prime Minister of Trinidad And Tobago said that CARICOM member states have offered support to house evacuees from the affected area.

“The scientific team from The University of the West Indies (UWI) Seismic Research Centre (SRC) has been in the country constantly monitoring the volcano and rendering scientific advice to the Government of St Vincent and the Grenadines. The Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) has been working alongside the St Vincent National Emergency Management Organisation (NEMO), the SRC and the Regional Security System (RSS),” Dr Rowley said.

He ended the brief statement assuring that the Community stands with the Government and people of St Vincent and the Grenadines in this perilous situation.

Trinidad-born Fr Collin Jackson who assumed his duties as priest in the Kingstown diocese last August told Catholic News he is safe.

He said he woke Saturday morning to the shock of a community covered with ash.

“This is a completely new experience for me. Almost 3,000 persons in shelters; people seem to be calm.”

He, however, acknowledged that the trauma of the last two days will affect the diocese for “years to come”.

Fr Collin Jackson

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