Alert! Volcano erupting in St. Vincent

Volcano erupting in St. Vincent Friday morning, April 9, 2021.
UWI Seismic Research Center/FB

The National Emergency Management Organization (NEMO) reported Friday morning than “explosive eruptions are taking place at La Soufriere at this moment” in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

“Persons in the red zone are asked to leave immediately!” urged NEMO in a Facebook post. “Ashfall is expected.”

NEMO said scientists at the Belmont Observatory in North Leeward in the red zone, “confirmed that there was an explosive eruption at the La Soufriere Volcano at 8.40 this morning.

“Ash plumes of up to 8 km were observed,” it added. “Ash fall has been recorded at the Argyle International Airport. All persons in the red volcano hazard zone are asked to evacuate immediately.”

The University of the West Indies (UWI) Seismic Research Centre (SRC) in Trinidad also reported that “as of 8:41 this morning, April 9, 2021, an explosive eruption began at the La Soufrière volcano in St. Vincent.

“This is a culmination of the seismic activity that began on April 8,” it said. “The eruption is ongoing and more information will be shared as things progress.”

On Thursday, the National Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) radio in St. Vincent and the Grenadines said that the country “has now moved into a heightened state of alert following increased activity at La Soufriere Volcano.”

It said details of the increased seismic activity were provided by geologist Prof. Richard Robertson during a news conference in Kingstown, the Vincentian capital.

At that conference, Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves issued evacuation orders effective immediately in the red-zone areas in the northeast and northwest of mainland St. Vincent.

The orders have been released due to the possible eruption of an active volcano on the island, according to WICNews.com.

It said Gonsalves was acting on the information from NEMO.

NEMO had switched the island’s alert level to red after days of seismic motion, advising that there is a “strong possibility of disaster,” WICNews said.

It said NEMO reported that a Royal Caribbean cruise-liner shortly arrived after the evacuation orders to assist in the evacuation process in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

The Associated Press also reported Thursday night that empty cruise ships were scheduled to arrive Friday in St. Vincent and the Grenadines to help transport thousands of people who evacuated their homes under the fiery glow of La Soufriere volcano, which officials said could erupt at any moment.

“Shelters filled up overnight as people living in the northern part of the island sought safer ground under government orders, with a string of car lights twinkling through the darkened mountains,” the AP said.

It said about 16,000 people live in the red zone and required evacuation.

Gonsalves urged nationals not to panic amid dire warnings from experts, according to AP.

“An explosive phase of the eruption may begin with very little warning,” said the University of the West Indies’ Seismic Research Center at the St. Augustine Campus in Trinidad.

According to Professor Robertson, a series of earthquakes and elevated levels of gases and steam were recorded on April 8.

The local VINCENTIAN newspaper reported that the volcano was now showing signs of significant change with bands of tremors being recorded, beginning at 3:00 a.m. on Thursday.

“It has entered into a heightened level of activity and, therefore, a period for it to move into an explosive phase has increased significantly,” it quoted Robertson as saying.

Gonsalves said that he had been in touch with officials from the United States, Venezuela and Cuba, the Regional Security System (RSS), and that he had spoken to the Prime Ministers of Barbados, St. Lucia and Grenada in relation to lending support to an evacuation process.

CARICOM TODAY also reported on Thursday that President of Guyana Dr Irfaan Ali has “immediately pledged his country support as St. Vincent and the Grenadines prepares to undertake the evacuation exercise.”

“Having regards to the emerging situation in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, this afternoon I called Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves and assured him of Guyana’s full support in dealing with this looming crisis,” said Ali in a statement. “The prime minister and I discussed immediate support, which will be required in the response.

“The prime minister indicated that apart from the need to evacuate citizens, there were other emergency material needs,” he added. “I committed to him that Guyana, upon receiving the full list of their needs, would immediately put together a national response to supply the items and arrange for them to be shipped to St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

“At this time, we would like to assure the citizens of St. Vincent and the Grenadines of Guyana’s unwavering support and solidarity,” the Guyanese president continued.

CARICOM TODAY said Grenada’s Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell also spoke with his Vincentian counterpart, assuring him that “the Government and people of Grenada stand in full solidarity with their brothers and sisters in St. Vincent.”

Mitchell reaffirmed the country’s pledge of 1,600 beds at St. George’s University to accommodate persons who may need to be evacuated, according to CARICOM TODAY.

It said this pledge was initially made in December last year following an emergency meeting of leaders from the sub-regional Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS).

Trinidad and Tobago has also pledged support to St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

Minister of National Security Stuart R. Young has, on the instructions of Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley, spoken to Gonsalves on Thursday, “and advised that Trinidad and Tobago stands ready to assist St. Vincent and the Grenadines as required in light of increasing activity at the La Soufriere Volcano,” according to CARICOM TODAY.

La Soufriere is the only active volcano on the island of St. Vincent in the Caribbean, said the weather reporting station, Weatherboy, on Thursday.

It said the volcano rises 3,864 feet above sea level.

“This volcano’s explosive past is the reason for today’s extreme concern: there have been five explosive eruptions here since records were taken: 1718, 1812, 1814, 1902/1903, and 1949,” Weatherboy said.

It said several effusive eruptions have also occurred at La Soufriere. In 1979, an effusive phase followed the initial explosive phase of the eruption, Weatherboy said.

In 1971/1972, it said an effusive eruption created a lava dome that existed until the 1979 eruption.

Weatherboy said webcams fixed on the La Soufriere Volcano show steam and smoke volumes increasing at the volcano, “a sign of an imminent eruption.”

It said La Soufriere’s most devastating eruption occurred in 1902, claiming about 1,600 lives.

During the last eruption in 1979, the local population was successfully evacuated, with no one dying, Weatherby said.

It said scientists are also tracking other seismic threats, stating that earthquakes and tsunami are also possible risks from a significant volcanic eruption.

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