St. Vincent to evacuate thousands under volcano threat

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – Empty cruise ships were scheduled to arrive on the eastern Caribbean island of St. Vincent on Friday to transport thousands of people who had evacuated their homes under the fiery glow of La Soufrière volcano, which officials said could at any moment breaking out.

The shelters filled up overnight as people in the northern part of the island sought safer soil by order of the government. A line of car lights twinkled through the dark mountains.

“You have settled in pretty well,” said Doris McIntosh, deputy director of an animal shelter, in a telephone interview. However, she noticed that the meals had not yet been served. “Because of urgent evacuations, some things are missing.”

Around 16,000 people live in the red zone and need to be evacuated, Erouscilla Joseph, director of the University of the West Indies Seismic Research Center, told The Associated Press.

In this image, obtained from the University of West Indies seismic research center, smoke pours from the glowing dome of La Soufriere volcano in St. Vincent and the Grenadines on April 8, 2021.UWI Seismic Research Center / Reuters

Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves urged people not to panic under the dire warnings from experts.

“An explosive phase of the outbreak can begin with very little warning,” the University of the West Indies Seismic Research Center said in a statement.

Many feared that the pandemic would hamper evacuation efforts, and Gonsalves noted that the cruise ships and other islands would require evacuees to be vaccinated. He also said he was working with other Caribbean governments to make sure they could accept ID as not everyone has a passport.

“This is an emergency and everyone understands,” he said.

He said two Royal Caribbean cruise lines and two Carnival cruise lines are expected on Friday. Islands that have announced it will accept evacuees include St. Lucia, Grenada, Barbados and Antigua.

Gonsalves added that he would highly recommend getting vaccinated for those who choose a shelter in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, a chain of islands with more than 100,000 people.

Scientists made the government aware of a possible eruption after detecting some sort of seismic activity at 3 a.m. on Thursday that indicated that “magma was moving near the surface,” Joseph said.

“Things are escalating pretty quickly,” she said of the volcanic activity, adding that it was impossible to give an accurate forecast of what could happen in the next few hours or days.

A team from the seismic center arrived in St. Vincent in late December after the volcano had an exuberant eruption. Among other things, they analyzed the formation of a new volcanic dome, changes in the crater lake, seismic activity and gas emissions.

The volcano last erupted in 1979, and an earlier eruption in 1902 killed around 1,600 people.

The Eastern Caribbean is home to other active volcanoes. 17 of the region’s 19 living volcanoes are on 11 islands, with the remaining two underwater near Grenada Island, including one called Kick’em Jenny, which has been active in recent years.

The region’s most active volcano in recent years was Soufriere Hills in Montserrat, which has erupted continuously since 1995, devastating the capital, Plymouth, and killing at least 19 people in 1997.

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