Residents prepare for possible evacuation as St. Vincent's La Soufrière volcano heats up

The volcano crater of St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ La Soufrière in dormant times. Photo by Dave Brown, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

A disaster alert has been issued in St. Vincent and the Grenadines as a result of heightened activity in La Soufrière, a volcano in the north of the island of St. Vincent and its highest point.

Categorised as an active volcano, La Soufrière's conical shape has been built up by layers upon layers of hardened lava and now, with the alert level having been elevated to Orange (the third highest of four levels), residents have been informed of the possibility of evacuation. An Orange Level alert suggests elevated seismic activity, with possible eruptions occurring with less than a day's warning:

Some areas directly surrounding the volcano have already begun to feel its effects:

Trinidad and Tobago-based journalist Wesley Gibbings, who has worked extensively throughout the region, shared on Twitter:

The popular microblogging platform is the channel through which the Seismic Research Centre at the University of the West Indies and St. Vincent's National Emergency Management Office (NEMO) have been posting regular updates:

Both official sources like @uwiseismic and social media users have been posting photos and videos of the volcano's rumblings:

At the time of publishing, no evacuation order has as yet been issued, but the volcano's activity continues to be closely tracked, and several of the country's Caribbean Community (CARICOM) neighbours have already pledged to assist should there be an eruption, in which case, as many as 20,000 people may have to be immediately evacuated.

La Soufrière has erupted on several occasions in the past. Most notably, the eruption of 1902 killed many Indigenous Black Caribs, who had been banished by the British colonial government to live at Sandy Bay in the shadow of the volcano. Most modern-day residents of the island's northern area have Indigenous roots, and identify as Kalinago or Garifuna.

The most recent eruption happened in April 1979. There was no loss of life in that incident, as the country had ample warning. In November 2020, renewed activity was noted at the crater, with a seismic event being recorded in December of that year, perhaps as a result of the formation of a new dome inside the volcano. On December 27, a NASA satellite detected a hotspot in the crater.

Update: Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Dr. Ralph Gonsalves this afternoon issued an evacuation order for the area around La Soufrière and all homes in the areas designated as the Red Zone on the northeast and northwest of St. Vincent. At an emergency press conference, Dr. Gonsalves said the decision was based on advice from volcanologist Professor Richard Robertson who said that the situation had deteriorated significantly.

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