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Saint Vincent orders evacuations as volcanic eruption appears imminent

Saint Vincent orders evacuations as volcanic eruption appears imminentPhotograph: Jason Veira / Reuters

The Caribbean island of St Vincent declared a red alert and issued an evacuation order after seismologists warned La Soufrière volcano was showing signs of an impending eruption.

Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves issued the order on Thursday after days of increased seismic activity.

The country’s National Emergency Management Organization said on Twitter that there was a “substantial prospect of disaster”, and informed residents to “be ready, put your house in order”.

“The safe areas where people will be evacuated are from North Union to Kingstown on the windward side of the island, from Barrouallie to Kingstown on the leeward side and the Grenadines Islands,” Nemo tweeted.

A Royal Caribbean cruise ship was heading to the island to help with evacuation efforts, Nemo said.

Geologist Richard Robertson said La Soufrière could erupt within hours or days, according to online newspaper St Vincent News 784.

Monitoring stations had reported long earthquakes, which suggested that fresh magma was trying to reach the surface, and indicated that the volcano was moving towards “an explosive stage.”

A video posted to social media showed a plume of smoke rising above the volcano, which is the highest point on the island of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

La Soufrière has been increasingly active since November. On Monday, researchers at the University of the West Indies reported that its monitoring station had detected a “swarm of small volcano-tectonic earthquakes”, the magnitude of which was steadily increasing.

“The earthquakes were located under the summit of the volcano 6 km deep. The largest event reached a magnitude of 3.5 which was felt by residents living near the volcano, ”UWI said in a statement.

La Soufrière’s most devastating eruption dates back to 1902, when around 1,600 people – mostly indigenous to the Caribbean – were killed.

It last erupted in April 1979, but there were no injuries as the local population was evacuated.

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