No help for refugees fleeing clouds of fire
Phil Davison speaks to victims of the Montserrat eruptions
Friday 08 August 1997
As she told me her story yesterday, a siren wailed, telling us the Soufriere volcano was about to blow again about four miles away, well within range of ash, gas and stones. But Mary was worried about only whether she would get bread for lunch as she had eaten no breakfast.
"Since we come here, we don't get nothin'. The government give us 100 dollars (pounds 25) in food vouchers a month but I'm not a well woman. I can't walk far," she said. To our left was a rusty fridge, shared by all 58 refugees. To our right was the blue and white painted pulpit, now used as a cupboard.
Outside, a lean-to provided a single toilet. Down a slope of overgrown grass, among gravestones and beneath a crimson-blossoming Flamboyant tree, was a breezeblock square serving as a cold water shower. On various gravestones, refugees sat and scrubbed clothes in pales or plastic basins of water.
The scene was a pitiful example of how slow and disorganised Britain and the local government have been in providing decent conditions for the 1,300 homeless. Some have been put up with families in private homes,others are living in tents at a camp at Gerald's Bottom in the north. This week's regular eruptions, forcing evacuation of an earlier buffer zone, have made things far worse.
"I was in another church first, in Frith's, but dey evacuate dat on Monday when de volcano blow again," said Mary, her head wrapped in floral cloth from the same curtain material as her dress. "Dey wouldn't even let me take my mattress. We no get time take nothin'." On her feet are a pair of tattered, oversized basketball shoes her son James, living in England, brought her during his last trip several years ago. Just after we spoke, the volcano blew. Mary did not venture outside to see the churning mushroom cloud of brown and grey gas and ash that surged from the crater.
But then the church was bombarded by a storm of pebbles that blacked out the sun. Birds flew wildly in panic and the volcano created what was like a heavy hail storm covering the entire island in a thick layer of what looked and felt like dry cement.
The refugees - some, like Mary, homeless for the two years since the volcano first erupted, have arranged the pews in squares to enclose their own "homes." Some have put up hospital-like screens for a degree of privacy. Against one inside wall, 42-year-old refugee Delores Henderson has managed to set up a wooden loom to weave cotton for clothes.
Sitting with me on a gravestone, housewife Linda Daley told me how the volcano's pyroclastic flow - an avalanche of red-hot gas and ash - nearly killed her on June 25 in Harris's village. "I be washin' some clothes when dis stuff come up like a mighty sea," she said. "It don't make no noise. It come up with a mighty rushin' ind I think God was in that wind 'cos it blow away the heat. I got behind de school wall den I see fire over my head and my washbasin melt in front of me. I call up to Jesus and say, Lord have mercy on me.
"Now, de government no help us at all. All dey give us is papers. I don't even have shoes so I can go to church. I suffocate wit de breath of the people here. I feel sick. Ask dem to get me a house, please."
Fifty yards below St Peter's Anglican church, the scenes are even more heart-rending. In a single-room former stone schoolhouse, 50 elderly or mentally ill refugees live and sleep on cots in what they call Scraps Memorial Centre. They call it that because they all try to make basic handicrafts from scraps of cotton material.
In one corner, 104-year-old Issly Bob slumps over his cot, slurping rice for breakfast from a plastic bowl. In another, 7-year-old Elizabeth Francis, a tall, beautifully-spoken refugee from the township of St. Patrick's, swats flies from her 43-year-old physically and mentally-disabled son Melvin, crumpled in a cot and wearing a dust ask to keep off volcanic ash.
- 1 Snoop Dogg and Jared Leto buy a stake in Reddit as A-list invests $50m
- 2 Car tax disc changes: Two days to go - and they affect you much more than just not displaying a piece of paper
- 3 Ed Sheeran dedicates song to David Cameron
- 4 Now we know whose fault it is if you end up being murdered in Thailand
- 5 35,000 walrus gather ashore on north-west Alaska beach 'for a rest'
Snoop Dogg and Jared Leto buy a stake in Reddit as A-list invests $50m
Five-year-old Iris Grace is raising awareness of autism through her extraordinary paintings
Car tax disc changes: Five facts you never knew about your (almost obsolete) tax disc
The Aral Sea: Nasa pictures show how what was once the fourth largest lake in the world has become almost completely dry
Amal Alamuddin: Human rights lawyer's legal chambers forced to upgrade website following George Clooney wedding
Isis, we are told, is a 'clear and dangerous threat to our way of life'. I’m sorry, but I just don’t buy it
Exclusive: 'Putin's Russia has been my biggest regret,' says Nato's outgoing Secretary General
The Osborne Ultimatum: Chancellor’s benefits freeze bombshell will affect ten million households
There’s no excuse for Dave Lee Travis’s behaviour, but we need to keep a sense of proportion
Should gay sex be illegal? 16% of Britons think so
Mark Reckless becomes second Tory MP to defect to Ukip in a month
- < Previous
- Next >
£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: SThree Group have been well ...
£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: Real Staffing Group is seeking Traine...
£120 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: We have an exciting opportunity...
Competitive: Randstad Education Manchester: SEN Teacher urgently required for ...