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St Vincent orders evacuations as volcanic eruption appears imminent

The Guardian logo The Guardian 8/04/2021 Martin Hodgson
a view of a large mountain in the background: Photograph: Jason Veira/Reuters © Provided by The Guardian Photograph: Jason Veira/Reuters

The Caribbean island of St Vincent has declared a red alert and issued an evacuation order after seismologists warned that the La Soufrière volcano shows signs of an imminent eruption.

The prime minister, Ralph Gonsalves, issued the order on Thursday after several days of increased seismic activity.

The country’s National Emergency Management Organisation said on Twitter there was a “substantial prospect of disaster”, and warned residents to “be ready, get your things in order.”

“Safe areas where people will be evacuated to are from North Union to Kingstown, on the Windward side of the island, Barouallie to Kingstown on the Leeward side and the Grenadine Islands,” Nemo tweeted.

a view of a large mountain in the background: The La Soufriere volcano in the northern area of St Vincent, 3 January 2021. © Photograph: Jason Veira/Reuters The La Soufriere volcano in the northern area of St Vincent, 3 January 2021.

A cruise ship from the Royal Caribbean line was heading to the island to help with evacuation efforts, Nemo said.

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The geologist Richard Robertson said that La Soufriere could erupt in a matter of hours or days, according to the St Vincent online newspaper News 784.

Monitoring stations had reported long earthquakes, which suggested that fresh magma was trying to reach the surface, and indicated that the volcano was moving to “an explosive stage”.

Video posted on social media showed a plume of smoke towering about the volcano, which is the highest point in the island country of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

La Soufrière has been increasingly active since November. On Monday, researchers from the University of the West Indies reported that its monitoring statement had detected a “swarm of small volcano-tectonic earthquakes”, which increased steadily in magnitude.

“The earthquakes were located beneath the volcano’s summit at 6 km depth. The largest event reached the magnitude of 3.5 that was felt by residents living close to the volcano,” the UWI said in a statement.

La Soufriere’s most devastating eruption was in 1902 when about 29,000 people – most of them indigenous Black Caribs – were killed.

It last erupted in April 1979, but there were no casualties as the local population was evacuated.

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