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The volcanic eruption of La Soufrière on the Caribbean island of St. Vincent has not robbed anyone of their lives, despite its explosive nature and its propensity toward sending hot avalanches of superheated noxious gases and debris down its slopes. But even if the eruption ends and no deaths are ultimately recorded, it’s abundantly clear that a profound amount of harm has already been done.

Its residents have been near-continuously showered with ash since the blasts began on April 9. According to a report by Bloomberg, that ashfall may cost the archipelagic country of St. Vincent and the Grenadines half of its entire gross domestic product.

Thanks to the grim sight of the sun disappearing behind veils of darkness, the volcanic snow has caused plenty of psychological distress. But it’s also triggered roof collapses, power outages and widespread water pollution. It’s been estimated that it has caused $150 million of infrastructural damage.

Another $150 million of damage comes from agricultural failure. Many of the crop fields around the volcano’s flanks have been entirely destroyed, with 80 percent of their root crops, 90 percent of their tree crops and 100 percent of their vegetable crops having been smothered beyond rescue.


An additional $30 million will be needed to remove all that ash when the eruption ends, and $15 million will be needed each month to feed and shelter the thousands of people who fled the eruption. The country was already suffering acute economic pain as a result of the pandemic; a violent eruption taking place at the same time only serves to exacerbate matters.

As of today, the eruption appears to be quietening down a little after several weeks of major explosive activity. If it stays that way—a big if, as it’s entirely possible that explosions will resume at any moment— it will certainly be a welcome moment for the island’s 110,000 residents.

Thanks to tell-tale seismic grumblings, ground deformation and gas venting at the summit, scientists were able to warn the government on April 8 (a day before the explosions began) with concrete confidence than something wicked was on its way: specifically, a gas-rich batch of magma capable of turning what had been a prolonged, effusive, lava dome-forming eruption into a series of explosions. About 20,000 people, those living in the shadow of the volcano in the island’s north, began evacuating to the island’s south or by boat to nearby islands.

That evacuation no doubt saved lives. But the prolific production of ash has proven to be a persistent problem—for the entire island, but particularly in the north, where most of the ash has been settling.

“The damage on the north of the island is bordering on apocalyptic,” the country’s Finance Minister Camillo Gonsalves said in a telephone interview. “The country is not recognisable as a Caribbean island in the north of the country.”

Countries both nearby and those further afield, as well as members of the Caribbean diaspora scattered across the globe, have been offering financial and logistical support, and a United Nations fundraising drive has recently started. But the overlapping economic wounds caused by the coronavirus and the La Soufrière eruption are deep, and it will likely take considerable time for them to begin to heal.