Saint Vincent volcano: ‘Explosive’ Soufrière eruption sparks mass evacuation

An “explosive” volcano eruption has blanketed the Caribbean island of St Vincent in ash and smoke.

La Soufrière, which has been dormant for decades, first started showing volcanic activity in December which picked up this week.

Late on Thursday Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves urged more than 16,000 residents in so-called red zones to urgently evacuate.

The volcano has since spewed dark ash plumes 6 km (3.7 miles) into the air.

Ashfall has been recorded as far from the volcano as Argyle International Airport, St Vincent’s National Emergency Management Organisation (NEMO) said.

The first sign that an eruption was imminent came on Thursday evening, when a lava dome was suddenly visible on La Soufrière.

Then, just before 09:00 on Friday (13:00 GMT), seismologists from the University of the West Indies confirmed that an “explosive eruption” was underway.

Evacuees were taken to cruise ships and safer parts of the island.

Lavern King, a volunteer at shelters on the island, told Reuters news agency: “People are still being evacuated from the red zone, it started yesterday evening and into last night. The place in general is in a frenzy.”

Most of the Lesser Antilles islands are part of a long volcanic arc in the Eastern Caribbean.

This is the first eruption on St Vincent since 1979. The worst eruption on record, in 1902, killed more than 1,000 people.

Local media have also reported increased activity from Mount Pelee on the island of Martinique, north of St Vincent.

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