Officials in St Vincent say they are extremely worried about the island’s Covid-19 outbreak given a lack of clean water and more positive cases reported as thousands of evacuees fleeing the La Soufrière volcano eruption crowd into shelters and private homes.

About a dozen cases have been reported in recent days. At least five evacuees staying in two homes and a shelter tested positive, exposing at least 20 people to the virus, St Vincent’s chief medical officer, Dr Simone Keizer-Beache, said.

She said officials were preparing to do mass testing to support contact tracing, a complicated undertaking given that between 16,000 and 20,000 people had been evacuated before La Soufrière’s explosive eruptions started on Friday. She also urged people to wear masks and cooperate to curb the outbreak. Some people arriving at shelters had refused to undergo a voluntary test, she said.

“Let us work together to prevent a second catastrophe,” she told a press conference broadcast by the local station NBC Radio.

Heavy ashfall from La Soufrière has contaminated many communities’ water supplies, leaving people to congregate in long queues at standpipes.

Among those queueing was Suzanne Thomas, 46, a saleswoman from South Union, who said she was hosting nine evacuees in her home who were huddled together, sleeping on rugs and blankets.

“It’s really rough. We have to use one jug of water to shower, brush our teeth and flush the toilet,” she said

Kevin Sam, 17, said he had had no water at all since Saturday. “I’m glad these standpipes are available, because I don’t know what we would’ve done. It’s not easy to bathe with half a bucket.”

Other supplies were also nonexistent or running low at some government shelters. Lisa May, 36, said she and her three children were sleeping on the floor at a shelter in the capital of Kingstown and hoped they would soon have at least one mattress to share. “Any little help we get, we would be grateful,” she said.

More than 4,000 people are staying in 89 official shelters. The government has also registered more than 6,000 evacuees in private homes and the figure continues to rise, the country’s prime minister, Ralph Gonsalves, said.

He said he worried about an increase in Covid-19 cases in certain areas. “If we’re not careful, we’re going to have a spike, which could create a real danger in addition to what we’re having with the volcano,” he said. “Washing your hands when you don’t have a lot of water is problematic.”

Garth Saunders, the director of St Vincent’s utilities company, said crews were cleaning intakes of the island’s water and sewer system and expected water to reach more communities later on Thursday. Neighbouring islands have shipped water to St Vincent, where officials have distributed bottles and dispatched tankers.

La Soufrière is expected to continue erupting for days or perhaps weeks. Scientists were working to analyse samples from the volcano and measure its gas emissions in an effort to predict how it might behave, said Richard Robertson, who is leading the team for the University of the West Indies’ seismic research centre.

The volcano had a minor eruption in December, its first since 1979. A previous eruption in 1902 killed about 1,600 people.

This content first appear on the guardian

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