Thousands evacuated on Caribbean island of St Vincent after volcano erupts
About 16 000 people were evacuated from their homes on the Caribbean island of St Vincent on Friday, 9 April 2021, after the La Soufriere volcano erupted. On Friday morning, St Vincent's National Emergency Management Organisation (NEMO) announced in a tweet that the volcano, known as La Soufrière, had erupted hours after it began spewing ash and steam, a day after the government ordered mandatory evacuations based on warnings from scientists who noted a type of seismic activity before dawn on Thursday that meant magma was on the move close to the surface. Experts have warned that explosive eruptions could continue for days or possibly week. There were no immediate reports of casualties from the eruption. A second “explosive event” has been reported by authorities in St Vincent, leaving residents of the area around La Soufrière volcano facing power cuts and water outages on Sunday, 11 April 2021.
According to the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency, the Barbados Defence Force and the Simon Bolivar International Task Force team of Venezuela have been deployed to St Vincent to provide assistance and help in the evacuation process.
The evacuation process has been made more complicated due to the coronavirus pandemic. As many as 14 residents of the islands have tested positive for the virus since Friday. St Vincent and the Grenadines has a population of 110 000. While most live on the main island of St Vincent around the capital of Kingstown, the population is spread over three dozen islands.
On Thursday afternoon, after days of increased seismic activity associated with La Soufrière volcano, emergency management officials raised the alert level to red, announcing a vessel had been "dispatched to the Leeward side of the island to move residents in the red zone who are in harm's way," the agency said in a tweet. Residents were being evacuated from the northeast and northwest of the island effective immediately, St Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves announced in a news conference Thursday.
"The first bang is not necessarily the biggest bang this volcano will give," Richard Robertson, a geologist with the University of the West Indies’ Seismic Research Centre, said during a press conference.
Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves asked people to remain calm, have patience and keep protecting themselves from the coronavirus as he celebrated that no deaths or injuries were reported after the eruption in the northern tip of St Vincent, part of an island chain that includes the Grenadines and is home to more than 100 000 people.
“Agriculture will be badly affected and we may have some loss of animals and we will have to do repairs to houses but if we have life and we have strength, we will build it back better, stronger, together,” he said in an interview with NBC Radio, a local station.
Gonsalves has said that depending on the damage caused by the explosion, it could take up to four months for life to return to normal.
Neighbouring nations from Antigua to Guyana have stepped in to help, shipping cots, tents and respirator masks and agreeing to temporarily open their borders to the evacuees.
As of Friday, 2 000 people were staying in 62 government shelters while four empty cruise ships floated nearby, waiting to take other evacuees to nearby islands. Those staying in shelters were tested for COVID-19 and anyone testing positive would be taken to an isolation centre.
La Soufriere previously had an effusive eruption in December, prompting experts from around the region to fly in and analyse the formation of a new volcanic dome and changes to its crater lake, among other things.
It last erupted in 1979 and a previous eruption in 1902 killed some 1 600 people.
The eastern Caribbean has 19 live volcanoes, including two underwater near the island of Grenada. One of those, Kick ’Em Jenny, has been active in recent years. But the most active volcano of all is Soufriere Hills in Montserrat. It has erupted continuously since 1995, razing the capital of Plymouth and killing at least 19 people in 1997.
Sources: Euro News, NPR, NDTV, BBC