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La Soufrière Volcano Erupts as Thousands of Vincentians are Ordered to Evacuate

by Karen Rollins Apr 9, 2021

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La Soufrière eruption
Photo credit: Richard Robertson (@vincierichie)

The La Soufrière volcano in St Vincent and the Grenadines has erupted for the first time since 1979, according to the island’s National Emergency Management Organisation (NEMO).

NEMO confirmed that an explosive eruption took place on Friday morning (9 April 2021), sending plumes up to 20,000 feet in the sky and ashfall was recorded as far as Argyle International Airport.

The eruption came just hours after Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves told the country that scientists had observed a significant increase in seismic activity, which meant that the evacuation of thousands of people could be necessary.

At approximately 6.30pm on Thursday evening (8 April 2021), the government raised the volcanic alert level and ordered around 7,000 people living in the red hazard zone on the northeast and northwest of the island to leave the area immediately.

Mr Gonsalves urged Vincentians to remain “calm”. He added: “Do not panic, be disciplined, be orderly.

“Not everything is going to go perfect, but if we all cooperate…We will come through this stronger than ever.”

The PM stated that three cruise ships were standing by to take evacuees who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 to neighbouring islands for shelter.

He said: “The cruise ships of Royal Caribbean will be first used to transport persons from St Vincent and the Grenadines who are to be evacuated to other countries in the region who have offered temporary hospitality, namely St Lucia, Grenada, Barbados and Antigua.”

SVG volcano zones

The lead geologist monitoring the volcano, Professor Richard Robertson, outlined the situation’s serious nature during a press conference.

He said: “The interpretation is that the volcano has entered a period of heightened activity and it is suggesting that fresh magma is either near the surface or approaching the surface and therefore the possibility for activity to move to an explosive phase has increased significantly.”

The La Soufrière volcano, which is the only ‘live’ or potentially active volcano on St Vincent, has been showing signs of increased activity since an effusive eruption began on 27 December 2020.

There have been five previous explosive eruptions at La Soufriѐre in 1718, 1812, 1814, 1902/03 and 1979.

Sources: NEMO, UWI Seismic Research Centre, and CNN.