“Explosive” eruption of Mount Soufrière causes mass evacuation

An “explosive” volcanic eruption covered St. Vincent Island in the Caribbean with ash and smoke, driving thousands of people out of their homes.

Mount Las Friere, which had been dormant for decades, first began to show volcanic activity in December, but this week it has increased.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves urged more than 16,000 residents of the “Red Zone” to evacuate.

Since then, the volcano has spewed 6 km (3.7 miles) of dark ash eruption into the air.

According to St. Vincent’s National Emergency Management Organization (Nemo), ash falls have been recorded at Argyle International Airport, about 20 km from the volcano.

It has been dormant since 1979, but from December steam and smoke spewed out and began to make a rumbling noise.

Evacuation bus

Thousands of people evacuated from the surrounding area

The first sign of an imminent eruption was Thursday evening when the lava dome became visible on Mount Las Friere.

That same night, Gonzalves ordered an emergency evacuation of the surrounding area.

Then, just before 09:00 (13:00 GMT) on Friday, seismologists at the University of the West Indies confirmed that an “explosive eruption” was underway.

The evacuees were taken to a cruise ship and a safer place on the island.

One resident, Zen Punnett, told Agence France-Presse that he saw a “huge smoke ball” and that there was a panic when people were first ordered to evacuate.

“You can feel the rumbling in the green safety zone here … I pray as calmly as possible,” he added.

The volcanoes of St. Vincent and the Grenadines record the second major eruption

A second explosion was recorded, creating a large vertical column of ash.

Lavern King, a volunteer at the island shelter, told Reuters:

Another explosion was recorded late Friday, the UWI Seismic Research Center tweeted.

According to Nemo, some evacuation procedures were hampered by a large amount of ash fall that “very poor” visibility.

“Now that the Las Friere volcano has begun to erupt explosively, the fall of ash will soon overwhelm us,” the organization wrote on Facebook. When it rains, the ash can harden and be dangerous.. “

Most of the Lesser Antilles are part of a long volcanic arc in the East Caribbean Sea.

The last eruption in 1979 caused more than $ 100 million (£ 73 million) to the island.

The worst eruption on record was in 1902, killing more than 1,000 people.

Local media also reported an increase in activity from Mount Pele on Martinique, north of St. Vincent.