It appears a significant volcanic eruption is imminent in the Caribbean, with the area on high alert and officials evacuating communities away from a zone of extreme danger. The National Emergency Management Organization (NEMO), Ministry of National Security, for St. Vincent and the Grenadines in the West Indies reports that steaming and smoking at the La Soufriere Volcano has dramatically increased in recent hours and an explosive eruption can occur within hours or less.
At noon today, NEMO raised an alert level to orange but has since raised it further to RED, indicating extreme danger at the La Soufriere Volcano.
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 today’s extreme 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.
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. Today, with steam and smoke rising from the volcano at increasing volumes, scientists believe an eruption could be imminent; it is too soon to tell if this eruption will be catastrophically explosive.
However, geologists studying data from this volcano believe an explosion is coming. Monitoring stations had reported long earthquakes, which suggested that fresh magma was trying to reach the surface, and indicated that the volcano was moving to “an explosive stage” according to reports in the St. Vincent online newspaper News 784.
With the situation escalating, Vincentian Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves has issued an evacuation order for all communities in a red zone area, which consists of the northern third of the island. The safe areas outside of the red zone are from North Union to Kingstown on the Windward side of the island, Barrouallie to Kingstown on the Leeward side and the Grenadine Islands. The National Emergency Operations Center (NEOC) has now been fully activated on the island to deal with this impending disaster.
To aid in the evacuation of the island, various vessels are racing to the coast to get as many people as possible off. The Royal Caribbean Serenade of the Seas is currently enroute to rescue people in harm’s way on the island. Many other fishing, commercial, and cruise ships are in the area and assisting.
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.
Scientists are also tracking other seismic threats: earthquakes and tsunami are also possible risks from a significant volcanic eruption.