An explosive eruption has occurred at the La Soufriere Volcano on St. Vincent in the Caribbean, according to the National Emergency Management Organization (NEMO), Ministry of National Security, for St. Vincent and the Grenadines in the West Indies. Yesterday, with signs of an explosive eruption imminent, Vincentian Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves issued an evacuation order and raised the alert level to “RED” there. The National Emergency Operations Center (NEOC) has now been fully activated on the island to deal with this impending disaster. The explosive eruption began at 8:41 am local time and continues at this moment.
La Soufriere is the only active volcano on the island of St. Vincent in the Caribbean. The volcano rises 3,864 feet above sea level. This volcano’s explosive past is the reason for ongoing volcanic concern: there have been 5 explosive eruptions here since records were taken: 1718, 1812, 1814, 1902/1903, and 1949. Several effusive eruptions have also occurred at La Soufriere. In 1979, an effusive phase followed the initial explosive phase of the eruption. In 1971/1972, an effusive eruption created a lava dome that existed until the 1979 eruption.
La Soufriere’s most devastating eruption occurred in 1902; that explosive eruption claimed approximately 1,600 lives. During the last eruption in 1979, the local population was successfully evacuated and no one died.
A lava dome through effusive eruption began last December. Visual observations in late December confirmed that high temperatures detected by satellites used to track fires were in fact caused by magma reaching the surface. Yesterday, with steam and smoke rising from the volcano at increasing volumes, scientists believed an eruption could be imminent; during the afternoon, the government declared the emergency, raised the alert level, and started mass evacuations.
Helping with the evacuation are Royal Caribbean Group and Carnival Cruises, both with empty cruise ships in their fleets due to the ongoing global pandemic. Royal Caribbean Group’s Royal Caribbean International and Celebrity Cruise brands have ships in the region to assist getting people to safety. Royal Caribbean International’s Serenade of the Seas and Celebrity Cruises’ Celebrity Reflection are at the island’s south side now to assist in getting people out. Carnival Cruise Line is sending the Carnival Paradise and the Carnival Legend to the rescue. Each ship will be able to hold more than 1,000-1,500 evacuees.
Roughly 16,000 people live in the area of the mandatory evacuation zone around the erupting volcano. The overall population of St. Vincent and the Grenadines is around 100,000.
The pandemic is compounding difficulties with the eruption. Cruise lines require that evacuees be vaccinated prior to boarding. The Prime Minister also wants people vaccinated before entering emergency shelters. Gonsalves says he “highly recommends” that people who opt to go to shelters in St. Vincent and the Grenadines be vaccinated.
The volcano has ejected a cloud of volcanic ash to the north and east of the island. Forecast models used by the
The eastern Caribbean is no stranger to volcanic activity. 17 of the region’s 19 active volcanoes are located on 11 islands, with another 2 currently under water near the island of Grenada. The eastern Caribbean’s most active volcano prior to today’s explosive eruption was Soufriere Hills in Montserrat. Soufriere Hills destroyed the capital of Plymouth and killed 19 people when it erupted in 1997. That volcano has been continuously erupting since 1995.