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Violent volcanic eruptions in the eastern Caribbean nation of St. Vincent and the Grenadines have forced nearly 20,000 people to flee their homes.
“Ash clouds up to heights above 30,000 feet are reported by pilots,” said Joel Jack, a preacher for the Kingstown Church of Christ in the islands’ capital city. “Large deposits of ash are all over the country and as far away as Barbados.”
It was the biggest eruption of La Soufrière, an active volcano on the north side of St. Vincent island, since 1978, Jack said. The explosion destroyed the volcano’s dome and created a new crater as pyroclastic flows — fast-moving currents of hot gas and volcanic matter — razed everything in their way.
“Anything that was there, man, animal, anything … they are gone,” Richard Robertson of the University of the West Indies’ Seismic Research Center told local station NBC Radio. “And it’s a terrible thing to say it.”
Falling ash and stone crushed the meeting place of the Sandy Bay Church of Christ. Days later, the roof and an exterior wall of the Owia Church of Christ’s meeting place collapsed, possibly as a result of earthquakes caused by the eruptions.
“Brethren from four congregations are among the evacuees,” Jack said as La Soufrière continued to erupt. Leaders of the Biabou Church of Christ opened their facility to 25 church members from Sandy Bay. Others went to public evacuation shelters or to the homes of family and friends.
Ash has coated much of north St. Vincent, killing crops and animals, Jack said. There is an island-wide water shortage. Schools that were set to reopen after a prolonged lockdown for COVID-19 have become shelters, likely delaying a return to in-person learning.
Church leaders on the island gathered recently to discuss relief operations and named Maxwell Ince as coordinator, assisted by others including Elton Lewis, evangelist for the Kingstown Church of Christ.
Church members plan to use the Biabou congregation’s building as a center for distributing aid.
“It is still possible to purchase a lot of what is needed on the island,” Jack said, “but some things may be much less expensive in some other places.”
The Caribbean Christians asked Arkansas-based Partners in Progress, which is associated with Churches of Christ, to receive relief funds from Christians in the U.S. for relief efforts. Tennessee-based Healing Hands International also is responding to the disaster and working with the Kingstown church, said Joseph Smith, vice president of operations.
About 500 church members live in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, which has a combined population of about 110,500. In addition to 12 congregations that meet on St. Vincent island, there is one Church of Christ each on the Grenadine islands of Bequia and Union.
Christians across the Caribbean ask for prayers for St. Vincent. In a recent social media post, Elvis Daniel, a member of the Langley Park Church of Christ on St. Vincent, wrote, “God is good and will not allow us to experience more than we can bear.
“All church members, keep safe. I am in Biabou,” Daniel wrote. “This too shall come to pass. God the Creator is greater than the volcano he created.”
Funds for relief in St. Vincent and the Grenadines may be sent to Partners in Progress, P.O. Box 13989 Maumelle, AR 72113 or Healing Hands International, 455 McNally Drive, Nashville, TN 37211. For more information, see www.partnersinprogress.org or hhi.org.
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