Tougher building code may be needed, Gonsalves says
Kingstown – St Vincent and the Grenadines prime minister, Dr Ralph Gonsalves said his government will have to consider reinforcing building codes, especially for residents living in the areas around the La Soufriere volcano.
This followed reports from scientists monitoring La Soufriere and members of the Cabinet that multiple lahars (mud flows) were affecting areas around the volcano, causing damage to private properties and public infrastructure.
The Seismic Research Centre of the University of the West Indies described lahars as “fast moving, dense mixture of rocks, ash and vegetation and water originating from a volcano”.
Landslides and severe flooding also affected areas of mainland St Vincent this week, following unseasonal torrential showers, which mixed with ash from the recent eruption of the volcano formed a thick sludge that wreaked havoc.
Parked vehicles in the streets around the island were surrounded by flood waters and debris, and the rails of the Rabaca Dry River bridge were bent and out of place, as muddy waters raged under the sole access way, connecting northern Windward communities to the rest of the island.
“A fellow saves his money, puts in his labour a little bit, and gets a few sacks of cement through the state system and so on and so forth,” Gonsalves said during the Eyeing La Soufriere morning talk show on the state-owned NBC Radio on Friday. “We all have to remember that a man’s house, however modest, is his castle.
“They build with family labour and friends . . . but the mantra, ‘building back stronger’, we have been addressing these things [in the building code], but we will have to address them more sharply.”
He added: “People have to understand that when physical planning comes by and says, ‘listen to me . . . you can’t build there or you can’t build in the manner that you are building’, they are not trying to keep down the small man. They are trying to help the small man.
“In this period of volcanic activity and climate change, it is in their [the homeowners’] interests to build in a manner that is sustainable. Of course, the small man says, ‘[government] you have to help me’ and all of that is part of the challenge that we have.”
Professor Richard Robertson, one of the scientists monitoring La Soufriere, said during the same radio talk show that there will be an ongoing problem with lahars in the short to medium term.
He warned residents considering rebuilding homes near the volcano that the lahars may be hazardous to life, limb and property because of the debris that may be associated with the flows.
“You have a volcano where people may want to live, but people have put settlements and put themselves in harm’s way by building structures in the valleys,” he said.
“They may have gotten away with that in past because you did not have too much flooding and too much water passing through, but given what the volcano has done, you are going to have a problem for the foreseeable future.
“When you have rain and sometimes when you don’t have rain, this volcano has a way in which it can store water and get that water down the valley even without getting too much rain.”
Robertson said this will lead to flooding in the valley areas, especially along the Rabaca Dry River in the northern Windward region, and the government must act to stem settlements there.
“If you live there and you put your stuff there, it means that you will have to be always building it back, and our principle in the Caribbean, especially for poor people and others that are struggling financially, is that our insurance is the government,” he said.
“. . . so I would suggest that the government agencies and the planning people stop residents from putting themselves in harm’s way and they must be very forceful.”
Robertson advised Gonsalves to examine some of the procedures that have been put in place in Montserrat, following the eruption of the Soufriere Hills volcano there 16 years ago.
He said this may help the St Vincent government find a way to adequately manage this aspect of the volcano recovery effort. (AR)