St Vincent awaits new volcanic explosions as help arrives

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St Vincent Awaits New Volcanic Explosions As Help Arrives
Ash rises into the air as La Soufriere volcano erupts on the eastern Caribbean island of St Vincent, © AP/Press Association Images
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By Danica Coto, Associated Press

Cots, tents, and respirator masks poured into the eastern Caribbean island of St Vincent after a powerful explosion at La Soufriere volcano uprooted the lives of thousands of people who evacuated their homes under government orders.

Nations ranging from Antigua to Guyana offered help by either shipping emergency supplies to their neighbour or agreeing to temporarily open their borders to the roughly 16,000 evacuees fleeing ash-covered communities with as many personal belongings as they could stuff into suitcases and backpacks.

The volcano, which last erupted in 1979, kept rumbling as experts warned that explosive eruptions could continue for days or possibly weeks. A previous eruption in 1902 killed some 1,600 people.

“The first bang is not necessarily the biggest bang this volcano will give,” Richard Robertson, a geologist with the University of the West Indies’ Seismic Research Centre, said during a press conference.

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The volcano last erupted in 1979 (Orvil Samuel/AP)

Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves asked people to remain calm, have patience and keep protecting themselves from the coronavirus as he celebrated that no deaths or injuries were reported after Friday’s eruption in the northern tip of St Vincent, part of an island chain that includes the Grenadines and is home to more than 100,000 people.

“Agriculture will be badly affected, and we may have some loss of animals, and we will have to do repairs to houses, but if we have life, and we have strength, we will build it back better, stronger, together,” he said in an interview with NBC Radio, a local station.

Mr Gonsalves said that depending on the damage caused by the explosion, it could take up to four months for life to return to normal.

As of Friday, 2,000 people were staying in 62 government shelters while four empty cruise ships floated nearby, waiting to take other evacuees to nearby islands.

Those staying in shelters were tested for Covid-19, and anyone testing positive would be taken to an isolation centre.

The first explosion occurred on Friday morning, a day after the government ordered mandatory evacuations based on warnings from scientists who noted a type of seismic activity before dawn on Thursday that meant magma was on the move close to the surface.

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As of Friday, 2,000 people had been evacuated to government shelters (Orvil Samuel/AP)

The explosion shot an ash column more than 33,000 feet (seven kilometres) into the sky, with lightning crackling through the towering cloud of smoke late on Friday.

The volcanic activity forced the cancellation of several flights while falling ash limited evacuations in some areas due to poor visibility.

Officials warned that Barbados, St Lucia and Grenada could see light ashfall as the 4,003-foot (1,220-metre) volcano continued to rumble.

The majority of ash was expected to head northeast into the Atlantic Ocean.

La Soufriere previously had an effusive eruption in December, prompting experts from around the region to fly in and analyse the formation of a new volcanic dome and changes to its crater lake, among other things.

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