KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent and the Grenadines – A decades-long dormant volcano in the southern Caribbean erupted on Friday, blowing gray smoke that spewed miles of ash clouds and forced thousands of people to evacuate.
The volcano, known as La Soufrière, on the northern tip of the main island of St. Vincent, in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, began showing signs of re-activity in late December.
The National Emergency Management Organization went into an “explosive state” on Friday morning he said on Twitter.
“It was a very, very loud bang,” said Shaquille Hadaway Williams, 22, a resident of St. Louis. Vincent, describing the moment when the volcano erupted. Soon the smell of sulfur permeated the air, he said, followed by clouds of ash, rocks falling on rooftops, and flashes of volcanic lightning in the sky. “You never see something like this,” Mr. Hadaway said.
The country’s emergency management agency said the ash drop was recorded all the way to the country’s international airport in the southern part of the island – more than 20km away – as a plume flew over the Atlantic Ocean.
The morning eruption was followed approximately six hours later by a “second explosive” eruption that was not so extensive.,, the agency said.
Video clips a shooting in Chateaubelair, a city at the foot of a volcano, showed that the sky was darkened with ash as evacuees in face masks swept through the streets, dragging their belongings. Other clips posted on social media showed homes and streets covered with grayish-white ash.
“The sky is very, very dark at the moment because of the ash falling into the air,” said Mr Hadaway, who evacuated from his village in the western part of the island on Thursday afternoon as the government warned of possible imminent eruptions.
There were no immediate reports of casualties, and the extent of any damage in the area was unclear.
The eruptions came a day after officers raised the alarm level after several minor earthquakes were discovered in the volcano, and clouds of steam peeked out from its top. The country’s Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves ordered the complete evacuation of the area.
“I want to call on all our people to be calm – don’t panic,” Mr Gonsalves told a news conference on Thursday. “We’re going to go through this harder than ever.”
As of Friday morning, close to 20,000 people had been evacuated from the area around the volcano, according to officials.
However, according to Erouscille Joseph, director of the University of the West Indies Seismic Research Center, the coronavirus could complicate evacuation efforts.
“The Covid pavidemia is still going on, and you’re talking about moving people for weeks, and maybe months,” Ms. Joseph said in a phone interview. “This is a huge expense in terms of humanitarian effort.”
Prime Minister Gonçalves said on Thursday that people evacuees must be vaccinated to board cruise ships sent to evacuate the island, while nearby island states that plan to accept refugees will also need to be vaccinated. He also recommended that those who arrive at shelters on St. Louis be vaccinated. Vincent.
Islands that have said they will accept evacuees include Antigua, Saint Lucia, Grenada and Barbados.
“Incredibly on this dangerous road to Jericho, we have good Samaritans,” Mr Gonzalves told a news conference on Friday. “It brings home that we are one Caribbean family.”
Scientists have warned that the eruptions could continue for days and even weeks.
“Once it starts, it’s possible you’ll have more explosions,” Richard Robertson, a professor of geology at the University of the West Indies, told a news conference on Friday. “The first burst isn’t necessarily the biggest burst this volcano will give.”
Some of the most devastating recorded volcanic eruptions are part of the history of the Caribbean mountain islands. 1995 Soufrière Hills volcano in Montserrat, British territory, revived after more than three centuries of dormancy. Over the next two years, it will bury half of the 39-square-mile island in ash and stone, including the capital Plymouth, and make much of Montserrat uninhabitable.
Grenville Draper, a geologist at Florida International University, called it “the last really long-lasting eruption” in the region.
Mr. Draper said the greatest danger of an eruption of St. Vincent is not from lava that moves mostly slowly in Caribbean volcanoes, but from pyroclastic flows – fast avalanches of hot gas and volcanic debris.
“If it starts producing pyroclastic flows, then it’s very, very dangerous anywhere on the flanks of the volcano,” he said.
95,000 people on St. Vincent had been on the brink for months in fear of the eruption of their volcano.
Some still vividly remember the last eruption of La Soufrière, in 1979, which threw debris thousands of meters away but did not cause any deaths thanks to the hastily arranged evacuation of residents to local beaches. His ashes reached Barbados, 100 miles east. An earlier eruption in 1902 killed nearly 1,700 people.
Cecilia Jewett, 72, a road supervisor with the governments of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, said she suffered from the 1979 eruption and recalled a scene of panic and a desperate rush of water, an ash-darkened sky and an overpowering sulfur stench. Her father, she said, survived a deadly 1902 event and told stories of victims buried in ashes and corpses lying in the streets.
“Those stories come back to me when I hear La Soufrière was acting,” she recalled when she was interviewed last December. “That is too much. These young people would not understand. They think it’s just an explosion. ”
“Sulfur, what does it do to your eyes, your breathing, your existence,” she continued. “It was a time I wouldn’t want to live.”
Ernesto Cooke reported from Kingstown and Oscar Lopez from Mexico City.