SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – Cribs, tents and respirators flocked to the eastern Caribbean island of St. Vincent as officials expected to hand them out on Saturday, the day after a massive explosion at La Soufriere volcano uprooted the lives of thousands of theirs Homes evacuated on government orders.
Nations from Antigua to Guyana offered aid by either sending emergency supplies to their neighbors or agreeing to temporarily open their borders to the roughly 16,000 evacuees who fled ash-covered communities with as many personal belongings as they could in suitcases and backpacks could stuff.
The volcano, which last erupted in 1979, rumbled on as experts warned that explosive eruptions could last for days or possibly weeks. An earlier outbreak in 1902 killed around 1,600 people.
“The first bang is not necessarily the biggest bang this volcano will make,” said Richard Robertson, geologist at the University of the West Indies Seismic Research Center, during a press conference.
Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves asked people to stay calm, be patient and continue protecting themselves from the coronavirus as he celebrated the aftermath of the outbreak on the northern tip of St. Vincent, part of a chain of islands that includes the Grenadines , no deaths or injuries have been reported and is home to more than 100,000 people.
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“Agriculture is going to be badly hit and we may have some animal loss and we have to make repairs to houses, but when we have life and strength we will rebuild it better and stronger together,” he said in an interview with NBC Radio, a local broadcaster.
Gonsalves has said that it could take up to four months for life to return to normal, depending on the damage caused by the explosion. As of Friday, 2,000 people were in 62 government shelters while four empty cruise ships hovered nearby, waiting to take other evacuees to the nearby islands. Those in shelters were tested for COVID-19, and anyone who tested positive was taken to an isolation center.
The first explosion occurred on Friday morning, the day after the government ordered mandatory evacuations, based on warnings from scientists who discovered some sort of seismic activity on Thursday before dawn, meaning magma was floating near the surface. The explosion shot a pillar of ash seven kilometers into the sky, and late Friday, lightning crackled through the towering cloud of smoke.
Volcanic activity forced the cancellation of several flights, while falling ash limited evacuation in some areas due to poor visibility. Officials warned that Barbados, St. Lucia and Grenada could see light ash fall as the 4,003-foot volcano continued to rumble. Most of the ash was to end up in the Atlantic Ocean to the northeast.
La Soufriere had previously experienced an exuberant eruption in December that prompted experts from across the region to analyze, among other things, the formation of a new volcanic dome and changes to its crater lake.
There are 19 living volcanoes in the Eastern Caribbean, including two underwater near the island of Grenada. One of them, Kick ‘Em Jenny, has been active for the past few years. But the most active volcano of all is Soufriere Hills in Montserrat. It has erupted non-stop since 1995, devastating the capital, Plymouth, and killing at least 19 people in 1997.