The explosive eruption of La Soufriere Volcano on St. Vincent in the Caribbean continues for the third day, with heavy ash, large rocks, and hazardous, toxic gas being emitted from the previously tranquil tropical island. Beyond St. Vincent, ash and gas have also spread to St. Lucia and Barbados, prompting warnings from authorities there.
Acting Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Kenneth George for Barbados, advised people there to stay indoors and only venture outside if it is highly essential or related to a medical emergency.
“Unless you have reason to be outside, stay in your house. This is to protect yourselves and your family,” he explained.
He further noted that asthmatics and people with respiratory disorders should take precautions and have their medication on hand at all times.
Additionally, the Ministry of Health and Wellness for Barbados has postponed an outreach for childhood vaccinations at a number of polyclinics today because of the atmospheric conditions.
At times, the ash in the atmosphere has been so dense it turns the middle of the day into what appears to be the middle of the night. Volcanic ash falls and flies about in the sky, making the typically tropical scene look more like a wintertime snowstorm.
Unlike ash from a fireplace or a fire pit, volcanic ash is actually pulverized rock, grounded and crunched into a fine, abrasive powder from the extreme forces associated with an explosively erupting volcano. Ash will hurt ones lungs and eyes and people in ash fall areas need to wear protective gear if they need to be outside.
Embedded in the ash is other volcanic debris. Across the northern half of St. Vincent, large pebbles and rocks are also falling with the ash; some rocks are as large as 3-4″ wide. These rocks could be scalding hot and could ignite fires where they land.
Volcanic ash can create significant harm to jet engines that fly through them or boat and automobile engines that ingest ash-filled air. Volcanic ash is hard and abrasive, and can quickly cause significant wear to various airplane parts such as propellers, turbo-compressor blades, and even cockpit windows. Because volcanic ash particles have a low melting point, it can melt in the combustion chamber of a jet engine, creating a ceramic or glass-like glaze that then sticks to turbine blades, fuel nozzles, and combustors. A jet engine that ingests just a small amount of ash could suffer from total engine failure. Overheating and engine failure is also possible in cars and trucks since volcanic ash can infiltrate nearly every opening in a vehicle. Ash is also very abrasive; ash caught between windshields and wiper blades will scratch and permanently mark the windshield glass, and windows are susceptible to scratching each time they are raised, lowered, and cleaned.
The United States, in partnership with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), operates two Volcanic Ash Advisory Centers (VAACs) within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA.) In the case of La Soufriere, ash advisories are being issued the the Washington VAAC in Camp Springs, Maryland to warn aviators of the hazards there.
In the latest advisory from the Washington VAAC, they warn of the presence of a very large and very high ash cloud from the erupting volcano. It shows the ash cloud stretching across much of the Atlantic, almost reaching the Cape Verde islands over time. The latest advisory shows ash climbing as high as 52,000 feet over the volcano. In comparison, maximum cruising altitude for a Boeing 777 jet aircraft is 43,100 feet.
The International Volcanic Health Hazard Network (IVHHN), the Cities and Volcanoes Commission, GNS Science, and the USGS developed guidelines on preparedness before, during, and after an ashfall.
Stock essential items; a sustained ashfall may keep people housebound for hours or even days. Based on the guidelines you should:
- have dust masks and eye protection
- have enough drinking water for at least 72 hours (1 gallon water per person per day)
- have enough non-perishable food for at least 72 hours for family and pets
- get plastic wrap to keep ash out of electronics
- get a battery-operated radio and extra batteries
- have lanterns or flashlights and extra batteries for both
- keep extra stocks of medicine for people and pets
- have a first aid kit
- prepare cleaning supplies, such as a broom, vacuum cleaner with spare bags and filters, and a shovel
- get a small amount of cash; sources such as ATMs and banks may not be open
- consider that you could be stuck in your vehicle, so store emergency supplies in your vehicle too
— the Weatherboy (@theWeatherboy) April 11, 2021
If volcanic ash is falling, stay safe!
- don’t panic; stay calm
- stay indoors
- if outside, seek shelter such as a car or in a building
- use a mask or cloth over your nose and mouth
- if a warning is given before ashfall starts, go home from work; if at work when ashdall starts, stay indoors until the ash has settled
- do not tie up phone lines with non-emergency calls
- listen to your local radio for information on the eruption and clean-up plans
- do not wear contact lenses as these will result in corneal abrasion
- if there is ash in your water, let it settle and then use the clear water. If there is a lot of ash in the water supply, do not use your dishwasher or washing machine. Water contaminated by ash will usually make drinking water unpalatable before it presents a health risk
- you can eat vegetables/fruit from outside, but wash ash off first
Volcanic ash, even in small quantities, can do harm on the surface. A light coating on car or home windows can scratch them; great care should be used when removing ash. Ash entering water catchment systems can contaminate their contents, clog filters, and/or do harm to pumps.
The volcano is also emitting an assortment of gases. Most notable is the emission of sulphur dioxide which is being tracked by Earth observing satellites. Sulfur dioxide (SO2), a colorless, bad-smelling, toxic gas that is part of a larger group of chemicals referred to as sulfur oxides (SOx). These gases, especially SO2, are usually emitted by the burning of fossil fuels, but volcanoes are productive emitters of sulphur dioxide too.
Satellite imagery shows a very large volume of gas escaping the volcano into the atmosphere. When mixed with precipitation, acid can rain down, bringing with it its own hazards to living things and objects at the surface.
The huge volume of heat surging out of the volcano is also leading to the formation of rapidly forming thunderstorms that have been dropping torrential amounts of rain in the region from time to time. Flash flooding has been observed; combined with ash, mud-like flows have been flowing through some streets, making travel difficult if not impossible.
Scientists do not know how long the eruption will last; it could be days or weeks. Monitoring equipment shows more magma and gas approaching the surface which will lead to more explosive eruptions in the coming hours.