A total of 170 Trinidad and Tobago nationals flocked to the St Vincent and the Grenadines Cruise Ship Complex yesterday hoping to be repatriated back to Trinidad.
They were hoping to board the MV Galleons Passage, which docked in St Vincent on Tuesday and was expected to leave the island around midnight on Wednesday.
The vessel took relief supplies and a contingent of officers from the Ministry of National Security to St Vincent on Tuesday.
Yesterday, as they stood in line at the Cruise Ship Complex, the T&T nationals seemed ready to make the journey, with their bags already packed.
One senior National Security officer said the repatriation exercise would not depend on who were granted exemptions but on a first-come, first-serve basis, once a valid T&T passport is presented.
The exercise began at 2 pm and by 3.30 pm, 48 nationals had been screened and approved to return to Trinidad.
There were dozen more, including young children still waiting in line and more nationals coming into the complex as word of the repatriation exercise spread. The Galleons Passage has a 400 passenger capacity but with COVID-19 regulations in place, inter-island ferries have been operating at 75 per cent capacity.
However, because of the large number of people, there was difficulty ensuring effective social distancing as the vessel left for Trinidad.
Also returning home on the vessel were three journalists, several immigration officers and an undisclosed number of the Ministry of National Security contingent of officers.
But while most were prepared to leave when given the chance, some were not.
Trinidadian Matalin Weekes was one of them. She told Guardian Media she lived in the Red Zone since visiting the island in December 2019 and had to flee her home when La Soufriere began to erupt explosively last Friday.
“I was scared because I never know anything about volcanoes and all that, and I cried to hear the explosion. In the night where I am in the camp it was very scary for me,” Weekes said.
She said she was staying in a shelter with her husband and her in-laws.
Weekes lived in Sandy Bay and she said when the explosive eruptions began last Friday, she left her home with nothing but the clothes she was wearing and her important documents.
“All I have is what I have on, all my clothes is up in Sandy Bay. The house was not destroyed but one of the bridges leading back to Sandy Bay collapsed.”
Weekes said she wanted to return home because she has been stranded in St Vincent since T&T’s borders closed in March 2020.
But yesterday she said she only found out about the repatriation process a few hours before it was scheduled to start.
She left the camp and rushed to Kingstown, St Vincent’s capital.
She brought her passport and id cards with her but with no clothing, she was hoping she would be told another vessel would return to pick up those who could not make the first trip.
She said she hoped to return to her home in Sandy Bay to retrieve some of her belongings before leaving the island.