Operation ABALONE

International Operation Name: N/A

International Operation Dates:  N/A

Mandating Organization: Government of Canada

Region Name:  Caribbean

Location:  St. Vincent

Canadian Operation Name: Operation ABALONE

Canadian Operation Dates: 1979/4/14 – 1979/4/29

Mission Mandate: To provide medical treatment and assist with public health concerns on the island of St. Vincent.

Mission Notes:

St. Vincent is the largest of the 32 islands that make up St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The island is dominated by the Soufrière volcano, which had last had a major eruption in 1902, killing 1600 people only hours before Mt Pelée erupted on Martinique killing 28,000 in the city of St. Pierre. In October 1971, pressure within La Soufriere pushed up a lava dome, creating a small island in the lake in the volcano’s crater.

On 13 April 1979, La Soufrière erupted again, with less than 24 hours notice. The eruption sent ash as high as 20 kms into the atmosphere and to Barbados, 160 km away. This eruption lasted two weeks. Although no one was killed, up to an estimated 22,000 people had to be evacuated from the northern two-thirds of the island, and there was extensive agricultural damage. The evacuation placed considerable strain on an island where the population was less than 90,000 and the per capita income was one of the lowest in the Caribbean.

At the request of the Department of External Affairs, the Canadian Forces authorized the dispatch of a medical team, complete with vehicles and supplies, to St. Vincent. A 436 Squadron CC-130 Hercules delivered the 13 members of the team from 2 Field Ambulance (2 Fd Amb) in Petawawa, under the name Operation ABALONE.

2 Fd Amb held an “O” group on 14 April. The next day they loaded their equipment, including an ambulance, onto a Hercules at CFB Ottawa. On arrival in St. Vincent, a recce was conducted after which the team set up their equipment at the Nurses Hostel, next to the Kingston General Hospital. A meeting with local medical experts determined that the best contribution would be to provide a mobile medical clinic.

A Preventative Medicine Technician also made a great contribution. He inspected over 60 emergency shelters that housed between 15- to 20,000 people. His recommendations formed an action plan implemented by local authorities. 

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