For the first time in four decades, the volcano La Soufrière has erupted on the Caribbean island of St. Vincent. Thousands of people were brought out of the danger zone to safety, as the government of the island state of St. Vincent and the Grenadines announced on Friday. The evacuation was hampered by heavy ashfall. "Visibility is very poor," reported the disaster management agency Nemo.
A column of smoke up to ten kilometers high rose above the mountain in the north of the island. Rain of ash also fell at Argyle International Airport in the south of the island. Nemo called on all residents to leave the danger zone around the volcano immediately. Ash rain also fell at Argyle International Airport in the south of the island. It had to be closed immediately after the volcano erupted.
There could be further and even stronger eruptions, Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves warned at a press conference. The difficult situation on the island is likely to continue for months, the head of government said in a tearful voice. He had put the island, with its more than 100,000 inhabitants, on high alert Thursday night. The largest danger zone alone is normally home to 16,000 people. Most of them had been moved to safety by Friday.
Subterranean tremors had previously been detected at the volcano, indicating that magma was moving towards the earth's surface. Already on Thursday, the government of the island state of St. Vincent and the Grenadines had begun evacuating the so-called Red Zone around the volcano.
Cruise lines Royal Caribbean International and Celebrity Cruises sent two ships to the region to bring people out of the danger zone to safety. The Jamaican government offered its assistance to authorities in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The island nation of St. Lucia activated an emergency protocol and opened its airport and seaport to people from the danger zones.
According to Prime Minister Gonsalves, around 4,500 people have already been brought to safety. About 2000 found shelter in emergency shelters. The elderly and people with health problems were to be accommodated in hotels. In the coming days, some people should also be taken to the surrounding Caribbean islands of Grenada, Antigua and Dominica.
The 1178 meter high La Soufrière is the only active volcano on St. Vincent. About 1500 people were killed in an eruption in 1902. It last erupted in 1979. According to Nemo, the current volcanic activity began in December. The Caribbean state consists of the main island of St. Vincent and the 31 small Grenadine Islands. The area used to belong to the British colonial empire.