La Soufrière Volcano Erupts Amid St. Vincent’s Mass Evacuation

by Carolee Chanona
st. vincent volcano

Early Friday morning, the chain islands of St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) was rocked by the “explosive eruption” of La Soufrière Volcano on St. Vincent. St. Vincent’s National Emergency Management Organization, or NEMO, urged residents via social media to leave the red zone and get to safety immediately. More than 16,000 residents were evacuated as volcanic activity on La Soufrière increased on Thursday, with the volcano emitting plumes of ash. Just before 09:00 on Friday (13:00 GMT), seismologists from the University of the West Indies confirmed that an “explosive eruption” was under way.

Evacuees are being given temporary homes on cruise ships and in safer parts of the island, while hotels and guest houses offer shelter to residents.

A second explosion was observed hours later at 2:45 pm local time on April 9, sending a vertical ash column 4km into the atmosphere.

#CaribbeanStrong: Region Offers Support

Home to more than 110,000 people in the Eastern Caribbean, evacuations began on Thursday once Prime Minister Hon. Ralph Gonsalves issued an emergency disaster alert at Level Red. As darkness fell on Thursday, a lava dome became visible on La Soufrière, suggesting it was about to erupt. Touched by the support of SVG’s Caribbean neighbors and various emergency responders offering help, Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves was moved to tears in an emergency press conference on the morning of April 9. Prime Minister of SVG says it is very touching that there are families in Antigua, Grenada, St. Lucia and Dominica willing to take evacuees into their own homes. With tears in his eyes flush with the regional response, he says “I love this Caribbean.”

Empty cruise ships arrive early April 9 for evacuees. Image courtesy STV Online

Cruise ships have begun transporting evacuees to neighbouring islands of Barbados, Grenada & St Lucia.

Many worried that evacuation efforts would be hampered by the pandemic, with Gonsalves noting that the cruise ships and other islands would require evacuees to be vaccinated. He also said he was working with other Caribbean governments to ensure that they could accept an ID card since not everyone has a passport. Antigua & Barbuda, Guyana, Montserrat, St Kitts & Nevis, Trinidad & Tobago have also indicated willingness to provide assistance to SVG.

Photo via Twitter @VincieRichie

Many countries, including Belize, have offered their show of support and solidarity to St. Vincent and The Grenadines.

La Soufrière, located near the northern tip of the main island of St. Vincent, last erupted in 1979, coincidentally also on the second Friday in April. A previous eruption in 1902 killed some 1,600 people, being the worst on record. Social media posts of video taken by witnesses on the ground showed plumes of ash rising from the volcano:

Two cruise ships arrived on Friday to “assist residents most at risk,” Royal Caribbean said in a news release late Thursday night. This is a developing story that will be updated. Our thoughts are with the people and government of St. Vincent and The Grenadines, where we pray everyone is evacuated safely with minimal to no loss of property.

Header image courtesy UWISeismic Research via Twitter @uwiseismic

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