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The new dome, at right, created by the ongoing activity at St. Vincent's La Soufriere volcano.
The new dome, at right, created by the ongoing activity at St. Vincent’s La Soufriere volcano.
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The alert level associated with La Soufriere in St. Vincent was on Tuesday raised to orange, the third highest on the four-colour scheme, as the volcano entered an effusive eruption stage.

This means that magma is oozing from the volcano and is distinct from the explosive eruption such as that of 1979, although one could follow the other.

With the orange alert, residents of the northern third of St. Vincent — from Georgetown to Fancy, in the east, and north of Belle Isle, in the west — have been told to prepare to evacuate at short notice, should such an order be given.

“What is happening now is a serious thing. The volcano is erupting,” Professor Richard Robertson of the University of the West Indies Seismic Research Centre, in Trinidad, told the media by video link.

He said that scientists would try their best to give at least 48 hours warning in the case of an explosive volcano.

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“We are trying to make sure you have whatever the time you need to move people out of harm’s way — whether it is 48 hours, 24 hours, whatever time that is. We want to be in a position to give you that and we’ll try as hard as we can to do that,” said Robertson, whose team could be in St. Vincent, bringing additional equipment as soon as Wednesday evening.

“I think you have to prepare for a rocky road for the next couple of months, unfortunately. Prime Minister, I think St. Vincent dodge COVID, but I am not sure you are dodging the volcano, unfortunately,” Robertson said.

Speaking at the same press conference, Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves urged residents in the red zone to be ready to evacuate at short notice, but emphasised that the alert was not an order to evacuate.

Robertson said that increased activity had been noted at La Soufriere since Nov. 16.

He said that while notifying the public of this is a decision for Kingstown, there had been similar levels of activity at the volcano, in the past, which were not followed by an eruption.

However, there were eight activities on Dec. 23, followed by a quiet period during which no activity was recorded.

Then on Sunday, Dec. 27, the centre’s staff was made aware that a NASA satellite had detected a hotspot in the crater of the volcano.

Therefore, the centre arranged with the National Emergency Management Organisation (NEMO) in Kingstown to visually investigate what was happening.

When the La Soufriere Monitoring Unit, in Kingstown, visited the 4048-feet high volcano on Tuesday, they discovered that there is a diffusive emission of magma extruding out of the volcano.

“What the guys discovered when they went up there today is that just north of where you have the fumarolic activity …  where there was a pre-existing lake, there was an explosion and a black mass of rock formed that area. And from what we have seen of it, it’s steaming,” Robertson explained.

“And from what we are seeing, there is currently, in our conclusion, an effusive eruption ongoing at Soufriere where, essentially, magna is coming slowly out of the earth and building another dome,” he said.

volcano hazard map
St. Vincent’s volcano hazard zone map.

The specialist said that this dome, called a satellite dome, is growing next to the dome that formed after the 1979 eruption of the volcano.

He said that scientists at the centre were working with NEMO to augment the monitoring system.

“What is happening now is similar to what was happening in 1971-1972,” he said, adding that unlike then, there is no lake in the volcano.

“But you have the same kind of mass growing on the side.  The mass is currently confined in the crater of the volcano. Because of the configuration of the crater, a lot of the hazards, as it presently stands, are in the crater itself and on the immediate rim of the crater. So the hazard would be from the rock itself, that is simply coming out and the rock is gonna be [hundreds of degrees Celsius] hot, so you don’t want to be close to it when it’s growing.

“If you think of it as a big truck dumping a set of stone and is just dumping the stone but the stone is coming from below … and as it comes out, it is bringing with it the gases that come out and the steam that you are seeing is the gasses that are coming out.”

Robertson said that a lot of the gas is sulphur-rich and most of it, when it mixes with the atmosphere is not going to cause as much harm.

“It’s probably if you’re on the crater rim it’s going to be really difficult to breathe because some of the sulphur, some of the constituents of that gas  … is smelly, but also, it dries out your respiratory system, makes it difficult to breathe.

“So the point is, on the crater rim, not a good place to be, but as far as this mass stays in the crater, it is fairly a contained threat to the people of the flanks of the volcano.”

Robertson said that his centre would want to monitor the rate at which the mass is increasing in size.

“Because as it expands and increases in size … it can spill over into surrounding valleys,” he said, adding that the closest valley is Larikai, an uninhabited area of the country, north of Chateaubelair.

He said that the other threat is the possibility of something else happening.
The scientist warned against unofficial persons visiting the dome of the volcano, saying that in addition to the dangerous emissions, rapid change at the crater is a serious threat.

Robertson said that he knows that everyone would want to visit the crater now.

“Don’t do it. It’s a bad idea… I’ll say this about volcanoes, no matter what people think, and La Soufriere is one of them: whatever you like, the volcano, when it does what it does, you take action, otherwise it is too late for you.  So those who go on the mountain and want to look in and get overcome by gasses – I hope they are just sensible enough to not put themselves in harm’s way. So I suspect that anybody that is sensible, when they go and see what they want to see, they would quickly realise that it’s a bad idea and turn back, at the very least.”

He said the volcano either erupts effusively as is happening now, or explosively, as in 1979.

Monitoring is important because while in 1971 there was an effusive eruption followed by years of quiet then the explosive eruption in 1979, it is possible for both to happen closer to each other.

“So that is one of the things we have to look at — if it is going to move from effusive to explosive, which makes it a bit more dangerous.”

He said that a lot more data is needed to reasonably predict if the eruption will progress from effusive to explosive.

“What people need to understand is that once an eruption starts at Soufriere or anywhere else, one of the things that scientific groups would try to do is to collect more information, look at it even more closely. So we put more instruments on, we use all kinds of techniques, because what we’re trying to look at is to see how it moves from where it is now to the next stage.”

He said that in the coming weeks or months, scientists will evaluate whether the volcano is moving from one stage to the next and try to give enough warning so that residents could take action that they might need to.

“And we are hoping that within the time you have before it goes to explosive we will give you enough warning to take the action that you need to, which is essentially getting people out of harm’s way, which is the main thing.”

Robertson, however, said that the eruption could remain just effusive.

“And in the best case scenario [one hopes] that it oozes out and eventually it stops and it goes to sleep for the next — of course, it is going to wake up at some point in time again, but still, we wouldn’t have to deal with it immediately,” he said.

The centre is expected to deploy a team to St. Vincent and the team could arrive as soon as Wednesday, Gonsalves said.

23 replies on “Alert raised as SVG’s volcano oozes magma”

  1. Nathan 'Jolly' Green says:

    Comrade you own every inch of Saint Vincent, get your backside up the volcano and order it to stop its antics. You really belong up there comrade.

    “You are the greatest man that ever lived,”

    ” there can never be another as mighty as you,”

    “there is nothing you cannot do,”

    “Great Comrade, you are the monarch of all,” “Nothing in this world dares to disobey you.”

    “take your chair and site beside the magna flow”

    “order it to stop”

  2. People from Fancy, Owia, Sandy Bay, Overland, and Orange Hill, should consider moving as soon as the Scientists from Trinidad say an eruption is about to take place, if it comes to that. Yes, once the volcano is put on RED alert, people from those five villages should move out. Please do.
    We do not want a repeat of 1902 when over 1600 deaths occurred due to a massive eruption then. Those five villages are MOST at risk.
    Georgetown, Fitzhughes, Chateaubelair and surrounding villages are next in line. Get ready to run! This monster of a volcano with a massive dome on a small island is no joke!

  3. Volcano erupting? More poverty for SVG people. But again, who put back the Conrad there. Didn’t you decern the smile under his face; government strives on disaster money. How many viable industries were brought to SVG in the last 20 years; zero. Receiving tablets and $500 cash and cheques, may have done the trick among those poor people but it will not save them. Now the same poor people are told to hope for the best but braise for the worse. Volcano eruption or no volcano eruption SVG was already bound for the worse. Borrowing before you plan the economy. Who goes to a bank to borrow money and don’t tell the bank the purpose for the money? Don’t dismiss that the beggar’s eyes are probably watching that volcano hoping for the worse, and already stretching the beggar’s arms for foreign money. Vincy people, you own the government, better own the volcano eruption too.

    1. Lord everything r yo bring in politics. When is this going to stop. This is serious and it’s the time for togetherness. It’s the country n people that will be affected not the politics.

    2. Nathan 'Jolly' Green says:

      Jacqui just one man and the dynasty owns the government not the people they are just poor wretched fools who know no better about anything

    3. Nathan 'Jolly' Green says:

      During the previous eruptions the islands families of middle and upper class all gave money donations to the recovery fund. All the names of the donors are listed and recorded along with how much they gave. Most were generous. Guess which family of comparative wealth gave absolutely nothing? Not even a blanket or a food parcel.

  4. joycelyn jackson long says:

    well i do hope and pray the everything goes well but i have live through in 71 had my first child that year had to run live in kings town for months but we never had all the info,in those days our communication was diffrent in those day now i live in canada and just saw the news on social media so we are have better info now ,i do trust god that my country will come out of this without any deaths ,so sending prayers to all my vincy for better out come

  5. May The Almighty YAH have mercy on the children of Israel. YAHUAH is going to make us cry out to HIM, one way or another. Wake up O children of Israel!!. Shalom

  6. Jolly , you have made my night, I strongly agree.
    Own the jobs, now own the volcano.
    NDP people will suffer and die, now all of us will suffer and die. The dust will fall on all of us. God never close His eyes. Its only a matter of time.

  7. Jannette Burke says:

    SVG had had disasters over the last few years and has pulled through. Will survive again, should the rocks become explosive. SVG STRONG.

    1. Nathan 'Jolly' Green says:

      I have been following it for weeks, it is Karma. The comrade caused to be built SVGs new Specialist Medical centre in an area in Georgetown where during a past eruption people died from gas in 1902 and rocks the size of microwave ovens rained down in 1979.

      He had the Cubans build it, it took nine years but was supposed to be a three year project.

      He was warned that if the Volcano ever went off that evacuating the hospital would be a massive problem.

      The sea is at its roughest there, rocks and windward, nowhere that a boat can land.  Only one narrow mountainous multi curved coastal road for evacuation. If that gets cut off it will end in tragedy of massive proportions. 

  8. Nathan 'Jolly' Green says:

    Prisons are part of the Ministry of National Security, Minister Ralph E Gonsalves

    What do they plan to do with the Bell Isle prisoners if they have to evacuate them?

    There is no room in Kingstown prison, it is full and overflowing. More than 400 at Bell Isle

    Comrade tell us the plan for the Georgetown Medical Facility, Bell Isle Prison, Aygyle Airport.

    What is the plan comrade, surely these matters are not secret as well?

  9. Nathan 'Jolly' Green says:

    People should be advised that if there is a major ash occurrence it will contaminate all the drinking water from the supplied pipelines. People should be storing water and if or when they use it to first boil it then pass it through a filter before using it for drinking.

    Why are they waiting for it to happen before all running about like headless chickens. Get the people prepared now, give them good and scientific advice.

  10. Nathan 'Jolly' Green says:

    That must have been about 15000 bottles ago Greg, well at least 10000, a discount for youthful days and also for these latter day.

Comments closed.