Saint Vincent volcano: Island awakes to ash and sulphur smell

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Inhabitants of the Caribbean island of St Vincent have woken up to “extremely heavy ash fall and sulphur smells” after Friday’s eruption of the La Soufrière volcano.

Witnesses said the volcano was still rumbling and emitting dark clouds of ash thousands of metres into the air.

La Soufrière, dormant for decades, started to become active in December.

Thousands of people have been forced out of their homes, and on Thursday Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves urged more than 16,000 residents in “red zones” to evacuate.

Ash fall has been recorded as far from the volcano as Argyle International Airport some 20 km (12 miles) away, St Vincent’s National Emergency Management Organisation (Nemo SVG) said.

Nemo advised caution for those suffering respiratory problems.

Be careful all. We are covered in ash and strong sulphur scents pervade the air. For those with respiratory problems we ask that you take the necessary precautions to remain safe and healthy,” it said on its Facebook page.

The volcano had been dormant since 1979, but in late 2020 it started spewing steam and smoke, and making rumbling noises.

image copyrightReuters

The first sign that an eruption was imminent came on Thursday evening, when a lava dome became visible on La Soufrière.

Just before 09:00 on Friday (13:00 GMT), seismologists from the University of the West Indies confirmed that an “explosive eruption” was under way.

Evacuees were taken to cruise ships and safer parts of the island.

Journalist Robertson Henry, who witnessed the eruption, told Reuters news agency: “It was bright, but then the light began to deteriorate. And it wasn’t at a slow pace, it was rapidly deteriorating.

“And I know where the volcano, the summit, the crater is situated. I couldn’t make it out. It was just darkness. And then… you began to feel something hitting your skin – ash.

“People looked up and there is this huge plume of ash hanging in the sky, silent, deadly, dreadful, ominous. And within minutes, you could just feel a change in the mood in the town.”

Later on Friday another explosion was recorded, the UWI Seismic Research Centre said.

Volcano of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines registers a second major eruption

image copyrightEPA

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Some evacuation procedures were hindered by the heavy ash fall, which had made visibility “extremely poor”, Nemo said.

Most of the Lesser Antilles islands are part of a long volcanic arc in the Eastern Caribbean.

The last eruption, in 1979, caused more than $100m (£73m) of damage on the island.

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

Local media have also reported increased activity from Mount Pelee on the island of Martinique, north of St Vincent.

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