'Explosive' Soufrière eruption sparks mass evacuation in Saint Vincent

By Rumi Samuel Published on April 10, 2021
'Explosive' Soufrière eruption sparks mass evacuation in Saint Vincent

A string of explosive eruptions has rocked the Caribbean island of St Vincent at La Soufrière volcano, which spewed clouds of ash miles into the air a day and forced thousands to flee for safety.

La Soufrière, which has been dormant for decades, first started showing volcanic activity in December, but that increased this week. On Thursday, Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves urged more than 16,000 residents in "red zones" to evacuate.

Low visibility caused by volcanic debris was hampering the effort to transport thousands of residents to safety, officials said. Satellite images and photos shared on social media showed a thick column rising from the 4,049-foot volcano, which began erupting at 8:41 a.m. Plumes of brown ash and smoke drifted higher as they moved northeast, reaching at least 38,500 feet into the atmosphere, near the altitude at which many commercial aircraft fly.

Residents posted videos showing debris falling “like rain” on parts of the island in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Officials announced a second, smaller eruption around 3 p.m. The ash column is starting to fall back down around the volcano,” Erouscilla Joseph, director of the Seismic Research Centre at the University of the West Indies, told The Washington Post, “There may be some property damage. This could go on for days, weeks, or even months.”

Four cruise ships are expected to reach the island on Friday – two from Royal Caribbean and two from Carnival Cruise Line – to ferry evacuees to nearby islands or shelters elsewhere in St Vincent. A third Royal Caribbean ship is expected to arrive in the coming days.

Gonsalves said in a press conference that evacuees would need to be vaccinated for Covid-19 before they are allowed to board a cruise ship or are granted temporary refuge in another island.

Islands that have said they would accept evacuees include St Lucia, Grenada, Barbados, and Antigua. “We are one Caribbean family,” said Gonsalves, wiping tears from his eyes. “Together, we will do this well.” About 2,000 people are staying at 20 shelters across the island, Gonsalves said. Philmore Mullin, director of Antigua & Barbuda’s National Office of Disaster Services, told AFP the twin-island nation was ready to receive evacuees from Saint Vincent.

La Soufrière last erupted in 1979, and a previous eruption in 1902 killed about 1,600 people. Shortly before Martinique’s Mt Pelée erupted and destroyed the town of Saint-Pierre, killing more than 30,000 people.

Rumi Samuel

Rumi Samuel

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