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NEMO Opens Earthquake & Volcano Awareness Week

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Contact: John Emmanuel

Monday, June 17, 2002 – Today St. Lucia began the fifth in the series on Earthquake and Volcano Awareness Week of activities being held throughout the Caribbean. Sponsored by the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance of USAID and the National Emergency Management Organization (NEMO), the aim of the week of activities is to raise awareness of geological hazards. Organizers also hope to sensitise St. Lucians to recognize the potential dangers of the Soufriere Volcano.

As the experts from University of the West Indies (UWI) St. Augustine-based Seismic Research Centre tour the Caribbean the message remains the same—the islands are facing serious threats from natural disasters and not just hurricanes but earthquakes and volcanoes as well. According to Head of the Seismic Research Unit, Dr. John Shepherd, despite their frequency hurricanes placed a distant third behind volcanic eruptions and earthquakes in terms of casualties in the Caribbean. Two volcanic eruptions in just over 100 years have caused two separate islands to completely abandon their capital cities, Martinique in 1902 and Montserrat less than five years ago.

Dr. Shepherd says the view that “a big one can’t and won’t hit St. Lucia”, could be the country’s downfall. “People say it to me all the time, we don’t have earthquakes in St. Lucia we just have tremors. Well a tremor is just a small earthquake and when there are small earthquakes there is going to be big ones. The last big one in St. Lucia was in 1953 and if or perhaps when an earthquake like the 1953 one is repeated there is the possibility of considerable damage particularly in Castries and region around here,” said Dr. Shepherd. Another problem he cited was that of myths and misconceptions concerning earthquakes and volcanoes in general. Dispelling these however will take time, time that is perhaps running out for St. Lucia and the rest of the Caribbean.

Glenda Polius, Deputy Permanent Secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister explained that although the volcano in St. Lucia is said to be dormant, the island’s proximity to Martinique and St. Vincent where active volcanoes exist, is cause for concern. According to her, “we therefore need to be sensitized as to the potential risks and measures to be employed in the event of a major eruption. In the case of earthquakes we are under a similar threat as with volcanoes. Not only are earthquakes known to be closely related to volcanic activity, it is my understanding that islands can be affected by seismic activity resulting from contact between plates near us, in short we are vulnerable.”

The primary target groups for the campaign are students from forms 4 - 6, residents of vulnerable communities in the southern portion of the island, planning officers and local and national disaster committee members. Activities will include lectures, a week-long exhibition at City Hall and the distribution of St. Lucia specific information.


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