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Explosive eruption rocks volcano on Caribbean’s St. Vincent, prompting evacuation

Published: Updated:

An explosive eruption rocked La Soufriere volano on the eastern Caribbean island of St. Vincent on Friday following mandatory evacuation orders from the local government.

Erouscilla Jospeh, director of the University of the West Indies Seismic Center, said the ash column rose as high as 10 kilometers (6 miles).

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The eruption followed mandatory evacuation orders issued on Thursday as officials began to move people who live near La Soufriere volcano, planning to soon 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, Erouscilla Joseph, director of the University of the West Indies’ Seismic Research Center, told The Associated Press.

The pandemic could hamper evacuation efforts.

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.

By late Thursday evening, shelters were filling up as a string of car lights making their way to safer ground twinkled through the darkened mountains.

John Renton, a school principal who was in charge of one shelter, said in a phone interview that they had plenty of masks and other personal protective equipment but needed more cots. While talking, he was interrupted by a phone call from a government official asking about the state of things.

“We’re over capacity,” he responded, noting that the shelter could hold 75 people and was already filled up.

Government officials tweeted that the dome of the volcano located on the island’s northern region could be seen glowing by nightfall. The alert issued on Wednesday follows days of seismic activity around La Soufriere.

Gonsalves urged people to remain calm and orderly.

“I don’t want you panicked,” he said. “That is the worst thing to do.”

Scientists alerted the government about a possible eruption after noting a type of seismic activity at 3 a.m. on Thursday that indicated “magma was on the move close to the surface,” Joseph said.

“Things are escalating pretty quickly,” she said of the volcanic activity, adding that it was impossible to provide an exact forecast of what might happen in the next hours or days.