A volcanic eruption rocked the Caribbean island of Saint Vincent on Friday for the first time in over 40 years – prompting the evacuation of thousands of people, according to reports.
The La Soufrière volcano’s eruption, which was confirmed by the seismological research center at the University of the West Indies, sent plumes of ash 20,000 feet skyward, according to the local emergency management agency.
Heavy ash spread into communities around the volcano and east into the Atlantic Ocean, said Erouscilla Joseph, the university’s director of the Seismic Center at the university.
The volcano last erupted in 1979, and a previous eruption in 1902 killed about 1,600 people.
There were no immediate reports of casualties on Friday.
“More explosions could occur,” Joseph said, adding that it was impossible to predict whether any potential future explosions would be bigger or smaller than the first one.
The eruption followed mandatory evacuation orders for people who live near the volcano.
Officials planned to place them aboard cruise ships, send them to nearby islands or take them to shelters elsewhere in St. Vincent that are outside the danger zone.
About 16,000 people who live in the red zone will need to be evacuated in efforts that could be hampered by the coronavirus pandemic, Joseph said.
Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves told reporters that people have to be vaccinated if they go aboard a cruise ship or are granted temporary refuge in another island.
He said two Royal Caribbean ships and two Carnival ships were expected to arrive by Friday.
Islands that have said they would accept evacuees include St. Lucia, Grenada, Barbados and Antigua.
“Not everything is going to go perfect, but if we all cooperate … we will come through this stronger than ever,” said Gonsalves, who recommended that people who decide to seek shelter in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, an island chain of more than 100,000 people, be vaccinated.
Emergency workers have been going out to communities in the red zone and providing transportation to safer locations, Joseph said.
“They know who doesn’t have transportation because all of this has been canvassed before,” she said, adding that those who board cruise ships would remain there for an unspecified period of time.
With an eruption imminent late Thursday, shelters were filling up as a string of car lights made their way to safer ground.
John Renton, a school principal who was in charge of one shelter, said they had plenty of masks and other personal protective equipment but needed more cots.
While talking, he was interrupted by a phone call from a government official asking about the preparations.
“We’re over capacity,” he answered, adding that the shelter could hold 75 people and was already filled up.
Scientists alerted the government about a possible eruption after noting seismic activity at 3 a.m. Thursday that indicated “magma was on the move close to the surface,” Joseph said.
“Things are escalating pretty quickly,” she said of the volcanic activity.
The eastern Caribbean is home to other active volcanoes.
Seventeen of the region’s 19 live volcanoes are located on 11 islands, with the remaining two underwater near the island of Grenada, including one called Kick ’Em Jenny that has been active in recent years.
The most active volcano in the region has been Soufriere Hills in Montserrat, which has erupted continuously since 1995, killing at least 19 people in 1997.
With Post wires