St. Vincent and other parts of the Caribbean remain covered in ash from the La Soufriere volcano. Bracing for more explosions, St. Vincent evacuated about 16,000 people from the surrounding communities.
La Soufriere’s latest eruption comes almost 42 years after the last major eruption in 1979. Authorities canceled flights as a safety precaution. Nearby Barbados, St. Lucia, and Grenada prepared for light ashfall, according to the Associated Press.
Heavy ashfall rained down on parts of St. Vincent, with a strong sulfur smell making its way through nearby communities. No casualties were reported as of Saturday afternoon.
Ash from La Soufriere caused air quality issues in nearby areas. In an interview with a local station, prime minister Ralph Gonsalves said people had trouble breathing. Officials were working to figure out how to remove the ash.
“Agriculture will be badly affected, and we may have some loss of animals, and we will have to do repairs to houses, but if we have life and we have strength, we will build it back better, stronger, together,” Gonsalves said.
He estimated it could take as long as four months to complete the cleanup. La Soufriere sits in the northern section of St. Vincent. St. Vincent is a part of a chain of islands, including the Grenadines.
Grenada, Antigua, Barbados, and St. Lucia agreed to accept refugees. St. Vincent has asked other countries to accept people without passports who need shelter. Over 2,000 people are currently in 62 government shelters.
“This is an emergency, and everybody understands that,” said Gonsalves.
Cruise ships arrived Friday to assist with the evacuation effort. The Royal Caribbean International and Celebrity Cruises released a joint statement Thursday explaining the coordinated effort with St. Vincent authorities. “Royal Caribbean International’s Serenade of the Seas and Celebrity Cruises’ Celebrity Reflection are on their way to the island nation and are expected to arrive later this evening to assist with evacuation efforts,” read the statement. The cruise lines assured they would take precautions “to protect the health and safety of the crew and passengers who board our ships.”
With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, St. Vincent authorities recommended those entering shelters be vaccinated. St. Vincent and the Grenadines received 24,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines earlier in the week as a part of a global relief effort.
Reports indicate ash from the first explosion reached 32,000 feet. In a Friday interview with the Associated Press, Erouscilla Joseph, the University of the West Indies Seismic Research Center director, said more explosions could occur. Joseph said it was difficult to predict the size of subsequent explosions.
A majority of the 19 volcanoes in the eastern Caribbean are on 11 islands. There are also two underwater volcanoes near Grenada including one that has been active in recent years.