KINGSTOWN, Saint-Vincent – La Soufrière volcano fired a huge amount of ash and hot gas early Monday in the largest explosive eruption since the start of volcanic activity on the island of Saint-Vincent in the eastern Caribbean at the end of last week, officials worried for the lives of those who refused to evacuate.
Experts called it a “huge explosion” that generated pyroclastic flows on the south and southwest flanks of the volcano.
The National Emergency Management Organization, or NEMO Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, said on Facebook that Monday’s explosion occurred around 4:15 a.m. and was visible on radar from the neighboring island from Martinique.
“It destroys everything in its path,” Erouscilla Joseph, director of the Center for Seismic Research at the University of the West Indies, told The Associated Press. “Anyone who ignored the evacuation must get out immediately.”
There were no immediate reports of injuries or deaths, but government officials were scrambling to respond to the latest eruption, which was even larger than the first eruption that occurred on Friday morning. About 16,000 people living in communities near the volcano had been evacuated Thursday on government orders, but an unknown number remained behind and refused to budge.
In a Facebook post, NEMO shared images of the aftermath of a pyroclastic flow, which is a rapid slide of hot gases and rocks that follows a volcanic eruption.
NEMO also advised people to avoid congregating “in danger zones to see pyroclastic flows from the La Soufrière volcano. This is considered EXTREMELY DANGEROUS.”
In an article published Monday morning, a few hours after the morning explosion, NEMO warned that the volcano “continues to explode”.
“The explosions and accompanying ash fall, of a similar or greater magnitude, will likely continue to occur over the next few days,” Nemo wrote. “#Pay attention”
Richard Robertson, with the Seismic Research Center, told local NBC Radio station that the old and new dome of the volcano had been destroyed and a new crater had been created. He said the pyroclastic flows would have wiped out everything in their path.
“Everything that was there, man, animal, whatever… they’re gone,” he said. “And it’s terrible to say it.”
Joseph said the last explosion was equivalent to the one that occurred in 1902 and killed some 1,600 people. The volcano last erupted in 1979. Ashes from ongoing explosions fell on Barbados and other neighboring islands.
A government minister who visited the island’s northeast region on Sunday said he saw around two or three dozen people staying in the community of Sandy Bay alone, prompting Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves to urge them people leaving.
“It’s high time for you to go,” he said. “It’s dangerous.”
Ongoing volcanic activity threatened water and food supplies as the government was forced to drill fresh water and distribute it by trucks.
“We cannot tarp over a river,” said Garth Saunders, the island’s minister of water and sewage authority, referring to the inability to try to protect the water sources. current water against current ash falls.
He told NBC Radio that officials were also trying to set up water distribution points.
Meanwhile, Gonsalves said government officials were meeting on Monday afternoon to talk about the food supply difficulties.
Deputy Prime Minister Montgomery Daniel told the radio station that the damage was extensive in the northeast region of the island, which he visited on Sunday. Forests and farms were wiped out, coconut, breadfruit, mango and soursop trees were destroyed, along with plantain and banana crops.
“What I saw was really terrible,” he says.
Cribs, tents, water tanks and other basic supplies poured into St. Vincent as neighboring nations rushed to help those affected by the eruptions. At least four empty cruise ships have floated nearby, waiting to transport the evacuees to other islands that have agreed to accommodate them temporarily, including Antigua and Grenada. Gonsalves, however, said he expected his administration to cancel cruise ships, as the vast majority of people appear to be staying in St. Vincent for now.
The only people evacuated from Saint-Vincent by cruise ship are 136 farm workers who are part of a seasonal farming program and have been stranded on the island. The group was supposed to travel to Canada, but their flight was canceled following Friday’s explosion. They arrived in St. Lucia on Saturday and will board a flight to Canada from there.
Gonsalves told NBC Radio on Sunday that his government would do everything possible to help people forced to abandon their homes in communities filled with ash.
“This is a huge operation that we are facing,” he said. “It’s going to be expensive, but I don’t want us to look at a dime … it’s going to be a long drive.”
Gonsalves said life could take four months to return to normal in Saint Vincent, which is part of an island chain that includes the Grenadines. The majority of the 100,000 inhabitants live in Saint-Vincent.
Among them is Ranique Chewitt, a 32-year-old saleswoman who lives in South Rivers, located southeast of the volcano.
He did not have to evacuate, but said he was worried about his health and water supply and that he had not left the house since the first eruption on Friday morning: “I have it. short of breath from dust and I’m inside.
The pandemic is also complicating response efforts. At least 14 new cases of COVID-19 have been reported since the eruptions began on Friday, and everyone who visits shelters is being tested. Those who test positive are taken to isolation centers. More than 3,700 people are in 84 government shelters.
The Eastern Caribbean has 19 living volcanoes, 17 of which are located on 11 islands. The other two are located underwater near Grenada, including one called Kick ‘Em Jenny which has been active in recent years. The most active volcano of all is the Soufriere Hills in Montserrat, which has erupted continuously since 1995, destroying the capital of Plymouth and killing at least 19 people in 1997.