KINGSTOWN – La Soufriere volcano fired an enormous amount of ash and hot gas early Monday in the biggest explosive eruption yet since volcanic activity began on the eastern Caribbean island of St. Vincent late last week, with officials worried about the lives of those who have refused to evacuate.
Experts called it a “huge explosion” that generated pyroclastic flows down the volcano’s south and southwest flanks.
“It’s destroying everything in its path,” Erouscilla Joseph, director of the University of the West Indies’ Seismic Research Center, told The Associated Press. “Anybody who would have not heeded the evacuation, they need to get out immediately.”
There were no immediate reports of injuries or death, but government officials were scrambling to respond to the latest eruption, which was even bigger than the first eruption that occurred Friday morning. Roughly 16,000 people who live in communities close to the volcano had been evacuated under government orders on Thursday, but an unknown number have remained behind and refused to move.
Richard Robertson, with the seismic research center, told local station NBC Radio that the volcano's old and new dome have been destroyed and that a new crater has been created. He said that the pyroclastic flows would have razed everything in their way.
“Anything that was there, man, animal, anything...they are gone,” he said. “And it’s a terrible thing to say it.”
Joseph said the latest explosion is equivalent to the one that occurred in 1902 and killed some 1,600. The volcano last erupted in 1979. Ash from the ongoing explosions has fallen on Barbados and other nearby islands.
One government minister who toured the island’s northeast region on Sunday said he saw an estimated two or three dozen people still remaining in the community of Sandy Bay alone, prompting Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves to urge people to leave.