St. Vincent’s Caribbean Community neighbors were this week preparing to rush food, water and other forms of aid to the country following the massive eruption at the La Soufriere volcano in the north of the island at the weekend.
Police and emergency officials have reported no deaths or injuries to islanders as the eruption sent plumes of ash miles into the sky––up to 39,000 feet––blocking out the sun, closing airports, large parts of the airspace in the Eastern Caribbean and dumping sooty ash in sections of neighboring Barbados 118 miles to the east.
Prime Minister Mia Mottley has set aside three days of national cleaning of Barbados as of Monday, as the island’s airport remains closed at least until Wednesday, and as authorities urge people to remain at home unless being on the roadways is absolutely important. Significant portions of Barbados were also darkened by overhead plumes of ash for much of Saturday and parts of Sunday.
The emergency management agency reported the first main explosion occurring on Friday, April 9, hours after five-term Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves had ordered a massive evacuation of people living in the dangerous northern sections of St. Vincent. Neighboring states like St. Lucia, Grenada, Antigua and Barbados among others offered and prepared to temporarily take in about 20,000 people who had fled the danger zone. Many also relocated to state shelters or have moved to smaller islands in the Grenadines that is a part of and twin with St. Vincent.
As Gonsalves urged state workers to report for duties on Monday, all member nations of the 15-nation grouping-from Suriname and Guyana on mainland South America to The Bahamas and Belize in the north- were preparing to rush food, water, rebuilding materials and other types of aid to St. Vincent.
And some of the world’s major cruise liners, which do business and make weekly port calls on St. Vincent in non-pandemic times, sent some of their empty vessels to both act as safe temporary havens and to move islanders to other places if and where necessary. Some western nations like Britain also made military vessels available if needed.
This year’s massive eruption was the first since 1979 when ash went skywards. Back then, plumes had also reached Barbados. The most deadly of volcanic eruptions had occurred back in 1902 killing 1,680 people, many of them native Caribs.
Meanwhile, the Trinidad-based Seismic Research Center on Monday reported a large explosion at the site, sending hot pyroclastic flows down the flanks of the volcano.
Leading volcanologist Professor Richard Robertson warned that the behavior of the crater and the volcano in general is more like activities of 1902 rather than the most recent eruption in 1979. Residents should take note and be extremely cautious.
“The activity pattern we have currently is more similar to a 1902 type of eruption of that kind of scale, rather than a 1979 scale. The people who lived through 1979 know the kind of eruption we have had,” Robertson told the main local radio station NBC. “What does that mean? It means, unfortunately, that it is likely going to cause more damage and destruction to St Vincent. But it also means that there will always be a safe place in the south of the country, which might have a lot of ash every now and then, but you can still sustain life and limb and it would not—which is what we all worry about—get so big that it destroys the whole country. That’s currently doesn’t seem to be the case.”
Monday’s powerful explosion was picked up in Martinique, two islands to the north.