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Seismologists Worry St. Vincent Volcano Could Keep Erupting Longer Than Expected

LaSoufrierePlume.jpeg
Orvil Samuel
/
AP
A massive plume of ash from a La Soufriere volcano eruption last Friday on St. Vincent island in the Caribbean.

There have been no casualties, and mass evacuation off St. Vincent island still looks unlikely; but scientists fear a prolonged volcanic eruption could change that.

A volcano on St. Vincent island in the Caribbean erupted again Tuesday — and seismologists worry that strong volcanic activity may last longer than first expected.

When La Soufrière volcano erupted last Friday on St. Vincent island — in the eastern Caribbean country of St. Vincent and the Grenadines — it was the first time since 1979.

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This week in fact marks the anniversary of that 20th-century eruption, which lasted weeks but resulted in no casualties. Fortunately so far there’ve been none in this new eruption event — but Caribbean seismologists tell WLRN La Soufrière has exploded more than 20 times since last week. And they’re beginning to think these eruptions too could on for weeks — or even months.

Scientists at the University of the West Indies Seismic Research Center in Trinidad and Tobago say the volcanic ash hazard is greater now than it was in 1979 (and even than in 1902, when a Soufrière eruption killed almost 1,700 people). And St. Vincent officials report much of the island’s crops have been destroyed as a result.

The eruptions have forced some 20,000 people to evacuate the so-called red zone (which comprises about a third of St. Vincent Island) near the volcano. But it shouldn’t force evacuation off St. Vincent itself — unless, say the scientists, the volcano does keep spewing hazardous ash for so long that keeping people in shelters there becomes untenable, especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Right now St. Vincent Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves says the biggest concern is getting water to those evacuees.