Power cuts after another ‘explosive event’
There has been another “explosive event” at a volcano on the Caribbean island
of St Vincent, with power outages and water supplies cut off.
The La Soufrière volcano first erupted on Friday, blanketing the island in
a layer of ash and forcing some 16,000 people to evacuate their homes.
Scientists warn that eruptions could continue for days – or even weeks.
Emergency officials described the landscape as a “battle zone” and
said more damage and destruction was likely.
The emergency management organization Nemo tweeted: “Massive power outage
following another explosive event at La Soufriere Volcano. Lightning, thunder and rumblings.”
It later spoke of “possible destruction and devastation of communities close to the volcano”,
and compared the eruption to that of 1902, the worst in St Vincent’s history when more
than 1,000 people were killed.
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White-coloured dust has covered buildings and roads around the island, including in its
capital Kingstown. Ash had begun to harden on the ground after overnight showers
and many homes were still without water and electricity, Nemo said.
However, some residents said power had been restored by midday local time (16:00 GMT).
How are residents coping?
Nemo is urging people to “be careful on the roads, which have become treacherous
as a result of the ash flow”. Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves said water supplies to
most of the island had been cut off and its airspace closed because of the smoke
and thick plumes of volcanic ash moving through the atmosphere.
Mr Gonsalves said thousands of residents had been sleeping in emergency shelters
since Friday. “It’s a huge operation that is facing us,” he told NBC News.
He said earlier that a lot of volcanic ash had fallen over the sea. “We don’t know
how much more is going to come out… so far, we have done well in that nobody
got injured, nobody is dead.”
The Barbados Defence Force has been deployed to St Vincent to provide humanitarian
assistance as part of a disaster response mission, the Caribbean Disaster Emergency
Management Agency said. Homes across the island, which has a population of
around 110,000, have been covered in white-coloured volcanic dust and rock fragments.
It prompted warnings from officials to stay indoors, while emergency groups
advised caution for those suffering with respiratory problems.
“Be careful all. We are covered in ash and strong sulphur scents pervade the air.
We ask that you take the necessary precautions to remain safe and healthy,” Nemo said.
How is the wider region being affected?
Residents in Barbados, nearly 200km (about 124 miles) to the east, have also
been urged to stay indoors. “This is to protect yourselves and your family,” said
Chief Medical Officer Kenneth George. People on the island of St Lucia, which is
around 76km north of St Vincent, have been warned to expect air quality to be affected,
with harmful gases potentially making it harder to breathe for people with conditions
such as asthma, the island’s Rodney Bay Medical Centre said.
One resident of St Lucia, Olivia, told the BBC she had never witnessed anything like
this before and that she was worried about a possible change in wind direction and
ash being carried northwards. “I am terrified of all the effects that are unknown at
this point, ash in the middle of a pandemic – no-one is prepared for that,” she said.
“Victoria Hospital has been transformed to become the Respiratory Hospital, and is
treating Covid patients” she said, adding: “So technically, persons suffering from
the effects of ash inhalation would be on the wards with Covid patients.”
More than 130 people who were due to leave St Vincent for Canada had to be taken
by ship to St Lucia on Saturday after becoming stranded when their flight was cancelled.
Other Caribbean countries, including Antigua and Guyana, have offered to send
emergency supplies to St Vincent. They also said they would open their borders
to those fleeing the fallout from the eruption.
When did the new eruptions begin?
The volcano had been dormant since 1979, but in late 2020 it started spewing steam and
smoke and making rumbling noises. 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.