Saint-Vincent officials said on Thursday they were extremely concerned about a COVID-19 outbreak given the lack of water and more positive cases reported as thousands of evacuees fleeing the erupting volcano thronged in shelters and private houses.
A dozen cases have been reported in recent days, with at least five evacuees living in two houses and one shelter testing positive, exposing at least 20 people to the virus, said Dr Simone Keizer-Beache, the island’s chief medical officer. of the Caribbean. .
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Keizer-Beache said officials were preparing to conduct massive contact tracing testing, a complicated endeavor given that between 16,000 and 20,000 people were evacuated before the explosive eruptions in La Soufrière began on Friday. She also urged people to continue wearing masks and asked them to cooperate, noting that some who arrive at shelters do not want to be tested, which is voluntary.
“Let’s work together to prevent a second disaster,” she told a news conference broadcast by local station NBC Radio.
Lack of water in some communities is complicated to tackle COVID-19, given the heavy ash fall, with people walking or driving to faucets with buckets and jugs in hand as long lines stretch out. formed.
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Among those in line was Suzanne Thomas, a 46-year-old saleswoman from South Union, a community in eastern St. Vincent that has suffered from water shortages since Saturday. She had welcomed nine evacuees into her home who are huddled together, sleeping only on rugs and blankets.
“It’s really hard. We have to use a jug of water to shower, brush our teeth and flush the toilet,” she laughs, adding, “Water conservation.”
Others, like Kevin Sam, 17, said they had run out of water at all since Saturday: “I’m glad these risers are available because I don’t know what we would have done. It’s not easy to bathe with half a bucket. “
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Meanwhile, supplies were either non-existent or running out in some government shelters.
Lisa May, 36, said she and her three children were sleeping on the floor at a shelter in the capital of Kingstown and hoped they would soon have at least one mattress to share: “Any little help we get we ( would be grateful. “
More than 4,000 people are accommodated in 89 government shelters. Meanwhile, the government has so far registered more than 6,000 people evacuated to private homes, a number that continues to grow, Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves said.
He said he was concerned about an increase in COVID-19 cases in some areas due to dwindling water supplies or a complete lack of water.
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“If we’re not careful we’re going to have a peak, which could create a real danger besides what we have with the volcano,” he said. “Washing your hands when you don’t have a lot of water is problematic.”
Garth Saunders, director of the St. Vincent utility company, said crews are still cleaning the island’s water and sewer intakes and expect the water to reach more communities over late Thursday, adding that the ash fall was very heavy. Neighboring islands and organizations have also shipped water to Saint-Vincent, where authorities have distributed bottled water and dispatched tankers.
Long queues formed in these trucks and money transfer companies, with some standing for hours to collect money from loved ones.
“I’ve been here since 4:30 pm this morning,” said Joseph King, a 67-year-old plumber, adding he was tired and hungry.
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Soufriere is expected to continue to erupt for days, if not weeks, with a scientific team expected Thursday to estimate the amount of gas expelled by the volcano and collect samples of pyroclastic flow material. These scans will tell scientists how the volcano behaves and help them guess what it is likely to do in the future, said Richard Robertson, who heads the team at the University of the West Indies Seismic Research Center.
The volcano had a minor eruption in December, and before that it erupted in 1979. A previous eruption in 1902 killed some 1,600 people.
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