KINGSTOWN, ST. Vincent -La Soufrière volcano in St. Vincent erupted today (Friday), sending nearly a six-mile high plume of ash into the air, hours after residents were ordered to evacuate the area, officials said.
Emergency management officials said the ash column was headed east into the Atlantic Ocean.
However, heavy ashfall also was reported in communities around the volcano, said Erouscilla Joseph, director of the University of the West Indies Seismic Research Centre.
“More explosions could occur,” she said, adding that it was impossible to predict whether any potential upcoming explosions would be bigger or smaller than the first one.
There were no immediate reports of casualties or injuries.
The volcano last erupted in 1979, and a previous eruption in 1902 killed some 1,600 people. La Soufrière, standing at 3,864 feet above sea level, also erupted in 1718, 1812 and 1814, according to the Seismic Research Centre.
The latest one followed mandatory evacuation orders issued on Thursday 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.
Roughly 16,000 people live in the red zone and will need to be evacuated, Joseph said.
“Evacuation of people in the red and orange zones to safe areas continues in earnest,” St. Vincent’s National Emergency Management Organization said in a tweet.
Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves said in a press conference 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 cruise ships are expected to arrive by Friday and a third one in the coming days, as well as two Carnival cruise ships 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,” Gonsalves said.
He noted that he was talking to Caribbean governments to accept people’s ID cards if they don’t have a passport.
“This is an emergency situation, and everybody understands that,” he said.
Gonsalves added that he highly recommends those who opt to go to a shelter in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, an island chain of more than 100,000 people, be vaccinated.
Emergency management teams have been going out to communities in the red zone and providing transportation to safer locations, including prearranged shelters, according to Joseph.
“They know who doesn’t have transportation because all of this has been canvassed before,” she said, adding that those who board the cruise ship would not be taken elsewhere but would remain there for an unspecified period of time.
In a CARICOM statement, Dr Keith Rowley, Chairman, said, yesterday, “The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) has mobilised to support St. Vincent and the Grenadines, as it faces the possibility of an imminent eruption of La Soufriere Volcano. Following an evacuation order of the immediate area around the volcano by Prime Minister Dr the Honourable Ralph Gonsalves, CARICOM Member States have offered support to house evacuees from the affected area.”