The prime minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines appealed for international help Tuesday as the Caribbean island nation begins to tackle the daunting cleanup from a series of volcanic eruptions that have not stopped.
"The lives and livelihoods of our people have been terribly affected," Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves told reporters in a video press conference. "We are in a dire situation, frankly."
About 20,000 people were evacuated from the area nearest to La Soufrière volcano on the north side of St. Vincent after it began erupting on April 9 for the first time in 42 years. The island nation has a population of about 110,000.
In some areas, ash is a meter deep, and it has given the normally green and lush island an apocalyptic appearance.
No one was killed in the eruptions, which the prime minister said have spewed more than 100 million cubic meters of ash on the island and into the sea, and has been carried as far away as India. But damage has been extensive to agriculture, homes and the island's tourism industry.
"The humanitarian relief for the prolonged period is going to be huge," Gonsalves said. "The cost is massive, no question about that, before we reach reconstruction."
He estimates that rebuilding will run to the hundreds of millions of dollars.
The United Nations launched a humanitarian appeal for $29.2 million on Tuesday to assist the most vulnerable with basic needs, including clean water, food and shelter, as well as to help initiate recovery. Last Thursday, the United Nations released $1 million from its emergency fund to help with urgent needs.
The world body is also deploying a team of a dozen experts this week to work with the government to assess what is needed to clean up and safely dispose of the massive amounts of ash, as well as to evaluate the ecological impact, Didier Trebucq, U.N. resident coordinator for Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean, said.
Trebucq added that there is still a lot of uncertainty as eruptions continue.
"We felt a tremor this morning," he told reporters. "Two days ago, we could see another eruption."
Gonsalves said when La Soufrière last erupted in 1979, it did so over a period of about seven months. Prior to that, in 1902, it went on even longer.
But should the volcano cease erupting sooner, the island nation will not be entirely at ease. Hurricane season starts in six weeks, and this year, it is forecast to be very active.