ROSE HALL, St Vincent and the Grenadines (Reuters) -La Soufriere volcano on the eastern Caribbean island of St. Vincent erupted on Friday after decades of inactivity, sending dark plumes of ash and smoke billowing into the sky and forcing thousands from surrounding villages to evacuate.
Dormant since 1979, the volcano started showing signs of activity in December, spewing steam and smoke and rumbling away. That picked up this week, prompting Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines Ralph Gonsalves to order an evacuation of the surrounding area late on Thursday.
Early on Friday it finally erupted. Ash and smoke plunged the neighboring area into near total darkness, blotting out the bright morning sun, said a Reuters witness, who reported hearing the explosion from Rose Hall, a nearby village.
St. Vincent and the Grenadines, which has a population of just over 100,000, has not experienced volcanic activity since 1979. An eruption by La Soufriere in 1902 killed more than 1,000 people. The name means “sulfur outlet” in French.
The eruption column was estimated to reach 10 km (6.2 miles) high, the University of the West Indies Seismic Research Centre said, warning other explosive eruptions could occur.
Ash fall was recorded at the Argyle International Airport, according to St. Vincent’s National Emergency Management Organisation (NEMO).
Some 4,500 residents near the volcano had evacuated already via ships and by road, Gonsalves said on Friday. Heavy ash fall had halted the evacuation efforts somewhat due to poor visibility, NEMO said.
“The place in general is in a frenzy,” said Lavern King, 28, a volunteer at shelters in the capital Kingstown and elsewhere. “People are still being evacuated from the red zone, it started yesterday evening and into last night.”
Local media have in recent days also reported increased activity from Mount Pelee on the island of Martinique, which lies to the north of St. Vincent beyond St. Lucia.
Reporting by Robertson S. Henry in Rose Hall in St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Kate Chappell in Kingston; Writing by Sarah Marsh and Frank Jack Daniel; Editing by Howard Goller