This report discusses the retrospective analysis of the contemporary colonial and scientific records of a major explosive eruption of the Soufrière of St Vincent from 1902 to 1903 reveals how this significant and prolonged event presented challenges to the authorities charged with managing the crisis and its aftermath. In a small-island setting vulnerable to multiple hazards, the spatial footprint of the volcanic hazard and the nature and intensity of the hazard effects were rather different to those of other recurrent hazards such as hurricanes.
The eruption affected the same parts of the island that had been impacted by prior explosive eruptions in 1718 and 1812, and hurricanes in 1831 and 1898, with consequences that disproportionately affected those working in and around the large sugar estates. The official response to the eruption, both in terms of short-term relief and remediation, was significantly accelerated by the existence of mature plans for land-reform following the collapse of the sugar market, and ongoing plans for rebuilding in the aftermath of the destructive hurricane of 1898.
The picture that this analysis helps to illuminate provides insights both into the nature of the particular eruptive episode, and the human and social response to that episode. This not only informs discussion and planning for future explosive eruptions on St Vincent, but provides important empirical evidence for building effective responses in similar multihazard contexts.