Kingstown, St. Vincent — Las Friere volcano erupted large amounts of ash and hot gas early Monday since volcanic activity began late last week on St. Vincent in the eastern Caribbean Sea. Those who refused to evacuate.
Experts called it a “giant explosion” and created pyroclastic flows on the south and southwest sides of the volcano.
“It’s destroying everything on the road,” Erouscilla Joseph, director of the University of the West Indies Earthquake Research Center, told The Associated Press. “People who did not pay attention to evacuation need to evacuate immediately.”
There were no immediate reports of injuries or deaths, but government officials were struggling to respond to the latest eruption, which was even larger than the first eruption that occurred on Friday morning. Approximately 16,000 people living in communities near the volcano were evacuated under government orders on Thursday, but unknown numbers remained behind and refused to move.
Richard Robertson, along with the Earthquake Research Center, told local station NBC Radio that the old and new domes of the volcano had been destroyed and new craters were created. He said the pyroclastic flow would have destroyed everything.
“Whatever was there, people, animals, whatever … they’re gone,” he said. “And it’s terrible to say that.”
Joseph said the latest explosion occurred in 1902, equivalent to the death toll of about 1,600 people. The volcano last erupted in 1979. Ash from the ongoing explosion fell on Barbados and other nearby islands.
A government minister who visited the northeastern part of the island on Sunday said he saw an estimated 20 to 3 dozen people left in the Sundi Bay community alone and urged Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves to leave.
“You’re leaving over time,” he said. “It’s dangerous.”
Ongoing volcanic activity threatens water and food supplies, forcing the government to excavate freshwater and distribute it by truck.
“We can’t put tarpaulins on the river,” said Garth Saunders, Minister of Water and Sewerage on the island, saying it is impossible to try to protect the current water source from ongoing falling ash. I did.
He told NBC Radio that authorities were also trying to set up water distribution points.
Meanwhile, Gonzalves said government officials would meet on Monday afternoon to discuss food supply issues.
Deputy Prime Minister Montgomery Daniel told radio stations that the damage was devastating in the northeastern part of the island and toured on Sunday. Coconuts, breadfruits, mangoes, soursop trees, obaco and banana crops were destroyed, and forests and farms were wiped out.
“What I saw was really terrible,” he said.
Cribs, tents, water tanks, and other basic supplies were flooding St. Vincent as nearby countries were in a hurry to help those affected by the eruption. At least four empty cruise ships were floating nearby, waiting to take the refugees to other islands, such as Antigua and Grenada, that they had agreed to temporarily accept. However, Gonzalves said he expects his administration to suspend cruise ships as the majority of people appear to be staying on St. Vincent for now.
Only 136 farm workers who participated in a seasonal farming program and were stranded on the island were evacuated from St. Vincent by cruise ship. The group was supposed to fly to Canada, but their flight was canceled as a result of the Friday explosion. They arrive in Saint Lucia on Saturday and board a flight to Canada from there.
Gonzalves told NBC Radio on Sunday that his government would do everything possible to help those forced to abandon their homes in an ashes-filled community.
“It’s a huge operation we’re facing,” he said. “It’s going to cost you, but I don’t want us to have a penny pinch … this will be a long distance.”
The Gonzalves Islands said it could take four months for life to return to normal in St. Vincent, which is part of an island chain that includes the Grenadines. The majority of the 100,000 inhabitants live on St. Vincent.
Among them is Lanique Chewitt, a 32-year-old salesman living in the South Rivers, southeast of the volcano.
He didn’t have to evacuate, but he said he was worried about his health and water supply and hadn’t left home since the first eruption on Friday morning.
Pandemics also complicate response efforts. Since the eruption began on Friday, at least 14 new cases of COVID-19 have been reported and all people going to shelters are being tested. Those who test positive will be taken to the quarantine center. Over 3,700 people are in 84 government shelters.
There are 19 active volcanoes in the eastern Caribbean Sea, 17 of which are on 11 islands. The other two are in the water near Grenada and include a recent activity called Kick’Em Jenny. The most active volcano of all is the Soufriere Hills in Montserrat, which has continued to erupt since 1995, destroying the capital of Plymouth and killing at least 19 people in 1997.
By Kristin Deane and Danica Coto