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St Vincent volcano eruption: residents urged to evacuate ‘immediately’ | St. Vincent and the Grenadines

Three days after the volcano La Soufrière began to erupt on St. Vincent, the eastern Caribbean island remains under a shower of ash and is subject to severe water restrictions as authorities increasingly worry about the safety of those who refused to evacuate.

La Soufrière, which last erupted in 1979, has been firing a huge amount of ash and hot gas into the air since Friday morning. In the early hours of Monday, the largest explosion of the current eruption sent pyroclastic currents down the south and southwest flanks of the volcano.

“It destroys everything in its path,”

; said Erouscilla Joseph, director of the University of the West Indies’ Seismic Research Center. “Anyone who has not followed the evacuation must get out immediately.”

There were no immediate reports of injuries or deaths, but government officials struggled to respond to the latest outbreak. About 16,000 people living in communities close to the volcano were evacuated during government orders on Thursday, but an unknown number have refused to relocate.

St.  Vincent shaken by explosive eruption of volcano La Soufrière - video report
St. Vincent shaken by explosive eruption of volcano La Soufrière – video report

Richard Robertson of the Seismic Research Center told local NBC Radio that the volcano’s old and new dome had been destroyed and a new crater had been created. He said the pyroclastic currents would have put everything in their way.

“Everything that was there – human, animal, whatever – they are gone,” he said. “And it’s a terrible thing to say.” Joseph said the latest explosion was on a par with one that took place in 1902 and killed about 1,600 people.

The National Emergency Management Agency in St. Vincent and the Grenadines have warned people to expect similar – if not major – explosions and accompanying asphalt over the next few days.

The volcanic activity has threatened water and food supply, forcing the government to drill for fresh water and distribute it via trucks.

Garth Saunders, minister for the island’s water and sewer authority, said it was impossible to protect existing water sources from the ash: “We cannot lay tarpaulins over a river.”

Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves said officials met Monday afternoon to talk about food supply difficulties. Cots, tents, water tanks and other basic supplies have flowed into St. Vincent, as neighboring countries rush to help those affected by the outbreak.

At least four empty cruise ships waited nearby to take evacuees to other islands that have agreed to receive them temporarily, including Antigua and Grenada. All public port employees were asked to report for work.

Gonsalves said it could take four months for normalcy to return to St. Louis. Vincent, part of an archipelago that includes the Grenadines. The majority of the 100,000 inhabitants live in St. Vincent.

The Covid pandemic has complicated response efforts. At least 14 new cases have been reported since the outbreak began on Friday, and all those going to shelters are being tested. Those who test positive are taken to isolation centers. More than 3,700 people are staying in 84 public shelters.

Rhiannon West with his partner and their six-month-old son, Shiloh.
Rhiannon West with his partner and their six-month-old son, Shiloh. Photo: Rhiannon West

Rhiannon West, originally from the south west of England but who has lived in St Vincent with her partner since December 2019, said they had run out of water, adding that she was worried about breastfeeding her six-month-old son. “I notice that my milk is very low, which is scary – probably the most frightening thing,” she told the Guardian.

West, 28, said she had hung damp sheets over doorways and windows to stop the ashes, but urged the British government to evacuate her family for her son’s sake. “He can not even breathe clean air, and we do not know if ash comes through holes in the windows,” she said.

“We want the British government to get us out. I no longer understand what they need to see that it is a crisis. What more do we need to experience for it to be considered a crisis? I know the Barbadian Coast Guard is helping people get off who are still stuck in the north so seaports are open. ”

The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) said there were “no plans for further evacuations” other than those already ordered by St. Vincent government, adding: “British citizens in the area should follow the advice of local authorities.”

It said the UK government provided emergency aid and had provided an initial £ 200,000 to support the regional response through the Caribbean Emergency Response Agency.

Nadia Huggins, a visual artist and photojournalist living in the southern part of the island, said local and island authorities did their best to help people as the rain transformed the ash-covered St. Vincent to thick sludge and in the midst of water shortage and continued pandemic.

“I think Covid was definitely a big concern before this happened,” Huggins said. “But people are so preoccupied with just being OK and coping and being able to breathe properly at the moment that I do not think anyone is thinking of Covid right now, even though the Ministry of Health still has big concerns about it and has put things in place to try to slow it down. ”

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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