Ash covered much of the Caribbean island of San Vicente on Saturday and the smell of sulfur permeated the air after a series of eruptions from a volcano that had been dormant for decades.
The material ejected after several strong explosions from the La Soufriere volcano, which began on Friday and continued into the early hours of Saturday, covered roads, houses and buildings. “On Saturday morning, the island of more than 110,000 people looked like a winter wonderland, albeit covered in ash,” wrote news portals.
Visibility in some areas was extremely limited, while in the capital, Kingstown, on the opposite end of the island, the ash caused a fine haze, the portals said. “Vincentians are waking up to extremely heavy ashfall and strong sulfur odors that have now advanced to the capital,” the local emergency agency anounced.
On high alert
Volcanic activity caused thousands of people to flee in search of safer places. Around 16,000 people live in areas that are under evacuation orders. Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves reported on Saturday that there is no water supply in much of the island and that the country’s airspace is closed due to ash. Around 3,000 people spent the night in shelters.
“It is a great operation that we are facing,” Gonsalves told. He also said that his government has been in contact with other countries that have offered help. Guyana and Venezuela are sending ships with supplies, he detailed.
The initial eruption of La Soufriere, the highest volcano in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, spewed hot ash and smoke at some 6,000 meters above sea level on Friday morning. A second, smaller eruption occurred on Friday afternoon, generating an ash cloud some 4,000 meters high, according to the seismic research center at the University of the West Indies. La Soufriere, 1,235 meters high, had not erupted since 1979, and its largest eruption occurred more than a century ago, in 1902, when more than a thousand people died. It had been roaring for months, until it finally erupted.
Zen Punnett, a resident of the 30-kilometer-long island, said people panicked Thursday as evacuation orders were issued, but things calmed down a bit on Friday. “I can feel and hear roaring here in the safety green zone. We can see a big ball of smoke. We stay calm as long as we can and pray,” Punnett said Friday.
By Friday afternoon, all the people living in the red risk zone had already been evacuated to safer areas, the disaster management agency reported. Royal Caribbean International and Celebrity Cruises said in a statement that they are sending two ships to assist with evacuation efforts. Gonsalves explained that two other Carnival company ships were also on the way.
The evacuees will be taken to shelters in other locations in the island chain or to other Caribbean territories that have offered help, such as Barbados and Saint Lucia, according to local media.
The island where the eruption occurred is the largest of those that make up Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. Philmore Mullin, director of the Antigua and Barbuda disaster services office, told that the twin islands are ready to receive evacuees from St. Vincent.
“I’m sure they will be really scared. Because the question is what will happen after they evacuate? The volcanoes don’t tell you what they have in mind,” Mullin said. “If the eruption persists for a long time, it will be life-changing. And depending on the type of eruption, they may not be able to go home for years,” he added.