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Vincentians urged to be on alert as La Soufrière volcano oozes magma

Published:Wednesday | December 30, 2020 | 11:03 AM
A new dome has formed following an effusive eruption at the La Soufrière volcano in St Vincent. Persons living close to the volcano have been asked to make all necessary preparations to evacuate in case an order is given - Contributed photo.

KINGSTOWN, St Vincent, CMC – Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves has called for residents to hope for the best even as his government plans for the worst, as the La Soufrière volcano began to ooze magma.

“All the residents in the communities between Fancy to Georgetown, and from North Leeward areas, from Belle Isle upwards, you have to be on alert, especially,” Gonsalves told a media briefing late Tuesday.

“At relatively short notice, you may get an order to evacuate if, in fact, we have the scientific information that an explosive eruption will be occurring or at least the likelihood of it,” he said.

“So you have to be on your alert. It’s very important that we get that in our minds, particularly persons who are from Fancy to Georgetown,” he said.

Gonsalves said that the National Emergency Management Organisation (NEMO) had been briefing him on the activities of the volcano for several weeks and the government has been in discussion with the Seismic Research Centre at the University of the West Indies.

The centre is expected to deploy three scientists to Kingstown on Wednesday.

They are St Vincent-born Professor of Geology, Richard Robertson, along with Lloyd Lynch, who is responsible for instrumentation and electronics, and Ian Juman, an electronics technician.

Gonsalves said Minister of National Security in Trinidad and Tobago, Stuart Young, has granted clearance for the trio to leave the country amid the COVID-19 pandemic and arrangements have been made with the Regional Security System to fly the scientists to St Vincent.

He noted that Robertson had said it is important for the scientists to come to the country with their equipment in order to measure in a more precise way, what is taking place at the volcano and to advise the government.

In Photo: Dr Ralph Gonsalves

“We, in turn, will inform — we have a responsibility to the public and we have to be responsive to the public and you will get all the information in the way that we have made Professor Robertson and Dr Pat Joseph available to the media here on Zoom,” he said.

“I am urging all Vincentians to remain calm and to listen to the alerts from the National Emergency Management Organisation. All residents living close to the volcano are asked to make all necessary preparations to evacuate, just in case an order is given. 

“I want to emphasise, no evacuation order is being given. This is really an alert because of the increased activities taking place at La Soufrière with the effusive eruption internally, with the heat that is coming out and with the steam that is coming out.”

He urged residents not to “tempt fate”, saying, “nobody should be going up there and if you are up there, you have to come out cause the place there will be very hot.”

There is widespread illegal cultivation of marijuana on the slope of the volcano, and several of those farmers live on their farms.

Gonsalves said that all recreational visits to the volcano are to be suspended with immediate effect.

Action plan

The prime minister said that, among other things, the National Emergency Management Council, at its meeting on Tuesday, would follow through elements of the national emergency plan as it relates to the volcano.

Among the things that have to be done in case the worst takes place, is to specify the inventory for vehicles, private and public, that would be available to move persons.

“We have to identify buildings, including guest houses, if we have to evacuate persons, we have to do so in safe areas, clearly, which would mean the areas which are in the south, the southernmost portion of St Vincent, and we have to have all the various sets of people mobilised.”

Gonsalves said that a team from the La Soufrière Monitoring Unit in Kingstown went to visually inspect the volcano on Tuesday after increased activity on the weekend.

Robertson told the Vincentian media on Tuesday that there was an effusive eruption at La Soufrière, which means that magma is coming out of the volcano quietly.

Robertson also stated that a new dome is also growing near to the pre-existing one.

Among decisions that the national emergency council made Tuesday evening was the course of action that should be followed to ensure the safety of residents.

The executive committee of NEMO — which comprises technical officers from various government departments, private sectors, and non-governmental organisations — will meet on Wednesday morning to activate plans to protect lives in the event that the level of seismicity increases and evacuation becomes necessary.

Gonsalves told the media that routine observation on Monday by the United States space agency, NASA, for hotspots across the globe, indicated a hot spot within the crater of La Soufrière.

“With this increasing activity, we have moved the alert level to orange. When there is no activity, it is green, with some restlessness, it is at yellow,” Gonsalves said, referring to the four-colour system, which has red as the highest.

“But now that there is an effusive, oozing eruption taking place, we have to take the alert level to orange. This means that there is a higher elevated activity of heat and gas, called fumarolic activity, at the volcano with the strong sulphur smell.”

NEMO said on Facebook that the orange alert means there is a highly elevated level of seismicity or fumarolic activity or both and that eruptions may occur in less than 24 hours.

The prime minister noted that the seismic research centre has said that the effusive eruption may continue and may end up as an explosive eruption.

It was noted that in 1971-1972 there was similar oozing, but La Soufrière then quieted down, then there was an explosive eruption in 1979.

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