KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent (AP) – People who ignored an initial warning to evacuate area closest to a volcano on the eastern Caribbean island of St. Vincent ran with an explosion on Saturday, the day after the eruption, which shook the ground to clear, spat ash into the sky and covered the island with a layer of fine volcanic rock.
The Eruption Friday of La Soufrière – the first big one since 1979 – turned the island’s lush towns and villages into gloomy, gray versions of themselves. A strong smell of sulfur was inevitable on Saturday and ash covered everything, creeping into houses, cars and noses and obscured the sunshine that makes the island so popular with tourists.
Chellise Rogers, who lives in the village of Biabou, in an area of St. Vincent that is considered safe, said she could hear incessant rumblings.
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« It’s exciting and scary at the same time, » she said. « (It’s) the first time I’ve witnessed a volcanic eruption. »
Scientists warn that the explosions could last days or even weeks, and that the worst may yet be ahead.
« The first bang is not necessarily the biggest bang this volcano will make, » said Richard Robertson, geologist at the University of the West Indies Seismic Research Center, during a press conference.
About 16,000 people were forced to flee their ash-covered communities with as many items as they could stuff into suitcases and backpacks. However, there are no reports of anyone being killed or injured by the first explosion or subsequent ones. Before it exploded, the government ordered people to evacuate the most vulnerable area around the 1,220-meter volcano after scientists warned that magma was moving near the surface.
Ralph Gonsalves, the prime minister of the 32 islands that make up the country of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, said on local NBC Radio that people should stay calm, be patient and keep trying to protect themselves from the coronavirus to protect. He said officials were trying to figure out the best way to collect and dispose of the ash that covered an airport runway near the capital Kingstown, about 20 miles south, and falling as far as Barbados, about 120 miles (190 kilometers ) eastward.
« It’s hard to breathe, » said the prime minister, adding that although the volcano vented less, a large cloud of ash remained. « What goes up has to come down again. »
Although Gonsalves said it could take up to four months for life to return to normal, he is confident it will.
« Agriculture will be badly hit and we may have some loss of animals and we need to make repairs to houses. But when we have life and strength, we will rebuild it better and stronger together, « he said.
People who ignored the initial evacuation order rushed to do so on Saturday. At least some ash-covered evacuees fled in small boats to other parts of the main island, which makes up 90% of the total country.
About 3,200 people sought refuge in 78 government-run shelters, and four empty cruise ships stood by to accommodate other evacuees to bring the nearby islands. A group of more than 130 people has already been brought to St. Lucia. Those in the shelters were tested for COVID-19, and anyone who tested positive was taken to an isolation center.
On Saturday, some people swept in front of their homes and taped their doors and windows shut, hoping to keep the ashes out.
« We hear rumblings from here and saw the lightning last night, » said Rukersha Jackson, a 22-year-old marketing specialist who lives with her family just outside the mandatory evacuation zone . This zone stretches across the northern third of St. Vincent and is on the opposite side of Kingstown, where most of the country’s more than 100,000 people live.
The ash has forced several flights to be canceled, and the bad Visibility has restricted evacuation in some areas. Officials warned that St. Lucia in the north and Grenada in the south could experience light ash fall, although most of it was expected to lead northeast into the Atlantic.
While the ash can be frightening, it does not harm healthy people in the short term said Claire Horwell, a professor at Durham University in the UK who will analyze the ashes emitted by La Soufrière. She advised people to wear face masks, long sleeves, and pants to avoid irritation.
« Volcanic ash looks really scary and is really scary to people who have never been exposed to it before, but to them It’s more of a nuisance to most healthy people, « said Horwell, who is also the director of the International Volcanic Health Hazard Network.
However, she cautioned that ashes and gases, particularly sulfur dioxide, could affect asthmatics and other people with chronic illnesses .
La Soufrière last had a sizeable outbreak in 1979. Around 1,600 people were killed in an eruption in 1902.
The volcano had a small eruption in December that prompted regional experts to analyze, among other things, the formation of a new volcanic dome and changes to its crater lake.There are 19 living volcanoes in the eastern Caribbean, including two underwater near Grenada. One of them, Kick ‘Em Jenny, has been active for the past few years. But the most active volcano of all is Soufrière Hills in Montserrat. It has erupted continuously since 1995, destroying the capital Plymouth and killing at least 19 people in 1997.
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